Chris Carter Interview: Finding The Spaces Between
, September 30th, 2010 08:42
Scott McKeating talks to Chris Carter about The Spaces Between, sound fidelity, and wiring your way beyond the grasp of bootleggers
Cosey Fanni Tutti, Sleazy, Genesis P-Orridge and... Chris. An example, if needed, that Chris Carter was always the least obviously peacock of the Throbbing Gristle quartet. Having won the heart of industrial music's only pin-up Cosey (his partner of thirty years), and in doing so exposing the growing cracks in Throbbing Gristle's united front, Carter's solo career began before TG imploded. He may well have had the technological improvisational know-how to make him the ideal backroom boffin, but Chris Carter is rightfully as well known now for his musical creativity as he his for his skill with a circuit board and a computer. His debut solo record The Space Between was released on TG's own Industrial Records back in 1980, and was reissued in 1991 by Mute Records. Over thirty years on, the original The Space Between still sounds fresh, a series of rhythmic minimalist rushes that predated the minimalist techno boom and influenced an army of bedroom experimenters.
So, on the eve of this album's first vinyl release, now retitled The Spaces Between with a remaster by the artist himself, Scott McKeating opens communication with Chris Carter.
How close were any of the tracks on the original The Space Between to becoming Throbbing Gristle components?
Chris Carter: All of them could have taken a different path and become part of a TG track I suppose. In the early days of TG we would have these extended weekend jam sessions at our Martello Street studio and I would bring along a stack of cassette tapes containing ideas, rhythms and loops I'd been working on during the week. We'd go through them and see which ones worked for us and any that didn't I'd put to one side. Quite often I bring along the same tapes a couple of weeks later and an idea that hadn't worked out before might quite capture our imagination the second, or third time around and eventually got used, or not. We still use a very similar process to work out ideas for tracks.
Have you been surprised that The Space Between has lasted so long in people's minds?
CC: Are you kidding? Of course I am, completely surprised. Although I'm probably the last person who has any idea why, you'd need to ask the people that play it.
What were your first thoughts on the offer of a vinyl TSB release?
CC: My first response was: Er... why? I took some persuading and for a long time it all seemed like too much trouble and I couldn't be bothered to dig out the old tapes from the archive, which is no mean feat I can tell you, our archive is bloody enormous.
Was your decision to accept the format anything to do with previous TG releases being so widely quickly bootlegged?
CC: Partly yes, well that and Twitch from Optimo is very persuasive. I know it's a very emotive subject and you're either for it or against it but for a jobbing self-employed musician such as me - bootlegging is just killing us. When TG played in the USA last year our new album was uploaded onto a torrent site before we even got to the second show. That tour was part funded by selling merchandise at shows (same as most tours are) but sales of that album dried up within a few performances. This seemed very odd for a brand new album. Then when fans started turning up with CDR copies of the album for us to sign it dawned on us what was going on. The ONLY bootleg proof release we've ever done was Gristleism. Try putting that on a torrent site you bastards!
In today's always 'next thing/next format' movement isn't going back to vinyl a weird step for someone seen as such a music technology pioneer/forward thinker?
CC: Yes it is and to be perfectly honest I'm not a fan of vinyl as a playback medium, never have been. The sound of vinyl per se is fine but what's always bothered me with vinyl is its fragility and susceptibility to instant irreparable damage. And I've never, ever, had a vinyl record that I couldn't hear clicks, micro scratches or static on - which annoys the bloody hell out of me! But I guess that's just part and parcel of the whole 'vinyl experience'. However... I really like the 12" format and the real estate of a gate-fold; artistically you can do so much with all that space. And I like the concept of coloured vinyl, TG were one of the first bands to put out coloured vinyl releases.
But for years I preferred tape over vinyl, well reel to reel to be specific, or as a substitute a decent chrome cassette. For a long time during the 1970s I would transfer brand new vinyl albums onto tape or cassette just so I could listen to them without the sound getting progressively worse over time and having to worry about scratches. When CD came out I was ecstatic and all over it, it was such a revelation. Then DAT came along, which has a wonderful transparent sound, completely untarnished - but it's starting to show signs that it wasn't a medium suited for archiving. Well neither is tape or CD for that matter – nothing is.
Now that TSB has had a cassette, a cd and now a vinyl release...what sounds best?
CC: Ha... even having said all that before about my distaste of vinyl I guess the best sound now would be a brand spanking new remastered vinyl copy of the album. Or a CD version of the remastered vinyl, if I ever decided to release that, which I don't by the way.
So, with its new title and new paint job - how close is this to the original TSB?
CC: The sound of the album is very close to the original, though definitely nicer sounding now and minus the hiss of a mass produced cassette. But we had to lose a lot of tracks to fit it on a single album. The original album was a 90 minute cassette and the Mute CD version was about 60 minutes. You could consider this release as a 'best of' version of the original cassette tape.
How extensively did you remaster the original tapes for the vinyl release? How tempting was it to give it a little tweak here and there?
CC: In the past we've had some truly horrible experiences with so called 'pro' mastering engineers messing with our material. So over the years I've taught myself how to master, and I think I've nailed the techniques now. But with this reissue I've done the remastering with a very light touch. There was some minimal EQ tweakery and a little peak reduction - which I did by hand, no limiters - and there is absolutely no compression. I hate this new fad for brick-wall compression; it removes all the original dynamics and leaves you with mush. No matter what the style of music is over compression still sounds like shit.
Can you talk a little about the relationship between the The Space Between album and your EAR 1 (Electronic Ambient Remixes release?
CC: They are cousins... by blood. About eleven or twelve years ago we were reorganising our archive after Mute made digital back-ups of all the TG masters and we were making space to reintegrate the new copies when I came across a box of my old cassettes from the 1970s. Amongst them I found the original tracks for the ninety-minute version of the album. After listening to some of the tapes - there were earlier mixes, different versions etc. - I thought it would be an interesting project to try incorporating some of those tracks into something ambient or experimental. At the time we were thinking of recording some ambient albums, which eventually became the EAR series. This was just prior to when I had my 'new millennia brain storm' and sold off all of my original analogue equipment. So much of the EAR One album was processed with analogue gear, some of which was used on the original recordings. It turned out as not so much a remix but more an ambient reworking.
Can you hear anything of TSB in the current crop of electronic artists? Do you have an ear to the ground to the electronic genres nowadays?
CC: I find the sheer amount of electronic music available now just overwhelming. I'm sure - well I know - there is some wonderful music being produced but I don't listen to a lot of contemporary work, not unless it's given to me and even then if it's not someone I know it'll probably get put on a shelf unheard. We just don't have the time to trawl through hundreds of CDs anymore. We get sent CDs to listen to on a daily basis, which is great but we don't keep up with what's new that much, unless it's a recommendation from a friend - "oh you must listen to this" scenario. The last few things I actually bought were all reissues of old, really old, material from the 1950s', 60s and 70s.
Your recent remix for Factory Floor, how did that come about? You must get deluged with offers, what made you accept this one?
CC: It's probably a coincidence but it seemed as soon as we stopped touring and recording as Chris & Cosey and started going under the Carter Tutti moniker we began getting all these remix offers and proposals. Which is fantastic but you do have to get quite selective after a while. The last couple of years we've been offered some great projects and have been enjoying the diversity from our regular work and from TG. The remix with Factory Floor came about through our manager, who we share. We'd heard about Factory Floor from him and then saw them play at Cosey Club, at the ICA in London. They were amazing, the energy in their performance and live sound was the closest thing to TG we'd ever seen. For that performance they were using TG's sound engineer Charlie, so I guess that helped a bit too. Anyway we got chatting after the show and we all got on famously, and one thing led to another...
Let's dip into the Gristleism for the last question. How early after Gristleism was finalised did you start thinking about possible modifications to it? I'm guessing not long...
CC: Well I started thinking about possible modifications when Christiaan and I got the first batch of prototypes mid 2009, months before it was released. Gristleism sold phenomenally well; in fact it actually outsold our last CD album. Earlier this year we considered making another edition of Gristleism that would include a headphone socket, some snazzy new colours and maybe some new loops. I thought it would also be cool to put 'mod points' on the circuit board that could show people where the best access is on the PCB to circuit-bend and modify it.
For the new TG shows this year I'm making an oversized bent Gristleism for Cosey to use. Well it won't look like a Gristleism as it's an old wooden radio with a couple of heavily circuit bent Gristleisms inside and lots of controls. I'm also making myself a small portable modular Gristleism, based around the Eurorack format. Because all this stuff takes up so much of my time I also had a friend, top circuit-bender Stu Smith, modify four Gristleisms for the shows using his own mods. Each of us will also be using those. I think it's going to be pretty experimental and old school TG this time around.