Psychedelic Entropy: An Interview & Mix By Imaginary Forces
, March 6th, 2013 06:11
London's Anthoney J. Hart crafts dark and mind-altering electronic music, steeped in a love of UK rave culture and the psychedelic properties of looped sound. He speaks to Rory Gibb about old drum & bass 12"s and inner space, and has recorded us a mix - listen below
"Imaginary Forces deals in things that never quite seem to be there," wrote the Quietus' Mat Colegate recently about Anthoney J. Hart's music. It's hard to imagine a better summary of his work, which brims with textural detail around the edges of perception. Like catching a glimpse of a shadowy figure out of the corner of your eye, or the way a simultaneous collection of environmental sounds can suddenly and unexpectedly take on the qualities of human speech, his music has a delightfully paranoid quality, speaking of heightened sensory experiences and addled mindstates.
On 2011's Uppstigande album (listen here) all manner of incidental details flare up in the background, lighting its muffled beats from various angles to lend it the flickering feel of old cinema film. It's strongly rhythm-driven - one track features a guest appearance from Hungarian drummer Balázs Pandi - and at times even finds itself in close alignment with the darker sides of dance music. So Hart's is music that sounds born of a self-taught and self-generated approach, but strongly affected by a few key influences: like fellow Londoner Powell, he cites old rave and drum & bass records as crucial to his musical development, and they're implicit presences throughout (if not immediately audible), scored deep into his music's surface like pen pressure imprints in a pad of paper.
In the background of new 50-minute composition Begotten, set for imminent release on cassette through Fang Bomb, environmental field recordings, the chug of train on rail, percussive chatters, insect song and whipping wind all swirl around one another in elliptical orbits, never quite falling into the same rhythmic configuration twice and remaining in a permanent state of anxious motion. At times it sounds as though he's zoomed so far in between the beats of the dance records he cites as inspiration that he's managed to capture some half-hidden hint of their essence - enough to cause what is ostensibly ambient music to evoke sensations of surging headlong forward upon tidal waves of rhythm.
The artists he's included in his mix for the Quietus, titled Ineluctable Modality Of The Audible, show off those preoccupations: techno from Silent Servant, Ancient Methods and Ugandan Methods; the exploratory post-techno electronic music of Yves De Mey, Emptyset, Roly Porter, Powell and Mika Vainio; and a healthy scattering of his own work. Listen to it via the embed below, and for the full tracklist, see bottom of page. We caught up with Hart to discuss the history of his music, inner space and the psychedelic properties of old hardcore tunes.
How long have you been making music for, and what was it that first inspired you to start? How has your sound and approach developed over the time period since?
Anthoney J. Hart: The initial inspiration to start came from my older brother. He was involved in the warehouse rave scene in London and he used to send mix tapes down to my older sister, as we were living in Hastings at the time. I ended up stealing one of his mix tapes, simply titled "Da Mix", from her room, and it blew me away. I still remember half the track list from it... Sonz Of A Loop Da Loop Era - 'Far Out', Manix - 'Stupid Dope Mix', and so on. I was 11 at the time.
The next year we moved back up to London and I started buying records from Music Power in Ilford, and Total Music in Bethnal Green. The first LP I bought was the Sub Base For Your Face LP because it had 'Far Out' on it. By the time I was thirteen I had started to save up money to go to a studio in Ashford to attempt to make jungle tracks. By this point I was buying my records from Boogie Times in Romford, home of Suburban Base, and even had the privilege of playing my first demo to Danny Breaks (Sonz Of A Loop Da Loop Era) and getting advice from him on how to construct my tracks.
Unfortunately my first attempts at making music were obviously pretty poor, so I focused more on my DJing. By the late 90s I was playing on a pirate station around Romford, until I eventually landed a spot on London's Rude FM. I stayed on there for a few years and started to make drum & bass tracks. But by early 2003 I had become bored with the way D&B had become so rigid in its approach, sticking to a very strict set of sounds, rules and formulas. I left Rude FM and changed my name, but still kept trying to make more experimental D&B until I was offered an opportunity to release my first album. [That album] ended up being a personal failure for me in many ways, but this failure had also told me explicitly that I needed to let go of D&B and move on to working on what I truly wanted to do.
It was quite a hard thing leaving behind a scene that I had spent over a decade involved in from its very beginning. I then spent a lot of time working on many different ideas and approaches until I got to the second album where everything seemed to come together in a way that I felt happy with. It was a huge step away from the rigid parameters of dance music, but still had that driving energy and beats.
Your current sound feels crafted around hiss, grit, decay and distortion. How did you come to this approach, was it the result of a long process of development?
AJH: I guess it has taken ten years to get to this point. I had a lot of baggage to let go of after being so immersed in a totally different scene for well over a decade. At first I thought that the sound that I have ended up making was a reaction to the highly polished D&B techniques that lost my interest in that scene, but over time I realised that it was not that at all. In fact the sound I have now has developed naturally over time by way of the processes I use and the sounds that I naturally enjoy listening to. However, I have recently come to the conclusion that a lot of what I am doing is not only influenced by the electronic masters such as Xenakis, Parmegiani, et al, and contemporaries like Kenneth Kirschner and Pan Sonic, but a huge part of it is from my early hardcore days.
When looking back through my record collection from the 90s - like the HNR Records releases and EPs like the Blind Date EP by Mike De Underground on U No Dat and the M.S. Six Jungle EP on Absolute 2 - these records have what I call a bedroom production quality. Badly looped breaks, hiss, really strange arrangements, and pretty poorly mastered by today's D&B standards. They also have a quality that I think is very important in my own music, and that is a psychedelic quality. That endless repetition of a loop that is somehow full of such subtle permutations that change it irreversibly. This is where the idea of entropy enters into the equation, not decay. Decay is a misnomer. It is this quality of a psychedelic entropy that I am interested in. This is also where my interest in techno came to figure.
What's your compositional process like? Do you make a lot of your music using hardware, and if so, why? Would you describe your approach as one of reduction and deconstruction - starting with more and paring it back - or the other way round?
AJH: I guess you could say that I have spent the past ten years or so paring back my sound, so perhaps I have taken the longest route to get to where I am now. I use a lot of different processes when recording depending on what I am working on. I use a few VSTs, as well as a Casio CZ101, some hand-held percussive instruments, a no input mixer, guitars, mics, and anything else I can get my hands on. I also use a lot of field recordings. For example, the last few releases contain a lot of field recordings from various trips to Sweden.
I usually have a rough idea of what I want to do before starting work on a track, but I am also flexible enough to go with the sound if it takes me in a different direction, as you never really know what is going to happen when you start working on something.
When you write music, do you start with a conceptual base and work onwards from there? Or are titles and references to literary influences applied retrospectively?
AJH: This really depends on what I am doing. With some tracks it really is as crass as making the track and it reminding me a little of a short story by Paul Bowles, for example, so I name it after that. With others there is a much deeper connection and process going on. For example, I made a piece called 'A Temporal Interval' a year or two ago which was exhibited by the Fermynwoods Gallery. This piece dealt with some quite Ballardian notions of time, space, and reality. It was made using field recordings of steam trains in Hungary which had been slowed down by about ten times their original speed to reveal the worlds of sound hidden within.
These manipulated recordings of trains draw on memories and emotional connections to these sounds, and create other spaces and realities – psychological landscapes, drawing on Ballard's notion of 'inner space'. An exploration of one's psychological landscape, one's inner space, complicates notions of time and space, reality and dream, the real and the surreal. The point being; nothing can be ordered neatly, chronologically, with distinctions – in a way our 'everyday life' is the dream, or the non-real, since we are all living within what Ballard called 'stage-sets' and Baudrillard simulacrums. The recordings allow one to disconnect, or connect, to step out, or in.
There are a few collectives in the UK currently making exciting moves around the boundaries of experimental electronic music, techno and noise - Subtext and Broken20 immediately spring to mind - and then there are labels like PAN (and many more) delving into these worlds from Europe. A few of them make appearances in the mix you've recorded for us. Do you feel a strong kinship with what those artists and labels are doing? Are there any contemporary musicians that you're particularly inspired by, or feel a particular connection to?
AJH: Yes and no. I think that I operate outside of it all really, I do everything myself, the music, artwork, promotion, etc. So I don't really interact with these movements, or collectives, in any other way than buying the odd track here and there that I like. I certainly am enjoying the amount of people that are making music, seemingly, from a similar background to me, and I feel there is sometimes a similar sonic thread. There are some labels, and artists, who are definitely making some really interesting work, but on the whole I actually feel disappointed with a lot of the supposed experimental music that is around at the moment.
If you compare a lot of current music to the likes of Xenakis, or Varese, for example they feel positively pedestrian. It is almost as if they are making "traditional electronic music". If you look at the recent Recollection GRM re-releases and compare them to current work, the difference is startling. Those records were made decades ago and they are still visceral, exciting, provocative and perhaps even dangerous! I really don't feel that from a lot of what is happening today. There are, of course, artists out there who are making exciting music that is exploring new territories, but I don't see many of them being mentioned very often.
You're about to release Begotten, a fifty minute long composition on cassette, via Fang Bomb. Could you tell me a bit about this album - is there a particular theme or concept underpinning it? What was the process of recording it like?
AJH: The idea came about after watching the film Begotten, a film which I am slightly obsessed with, for the nth time. I ended up paying about £100 for a second hand copy to be shipped from America as it is deleted now. I watched the film so many times that it really got to me and I wanted to make a piece of music to accompany it (the film itself has no spoken word or music, just ambient sounds) that would maintain the same level of tension and oppressiveness, whilst still sounding quite beautiful. In the end I simply put the film on and improvised along to it, afterwards taking what I had done and reworking it, reshaping it, and adding sounds. I actually used a lot of sampled sounds and field recordings which were then manipulated to achieve the sound I wanted.
What do you have planned for the future, both releases-wise and in terms of other plans?
AJH: I have the aforementioned album out on Fang Bomb at the end of February, and a few things in the pipeline for my own label, Sleep Codes. I am also working on an album with Hungarian free jazz drummer Balázs Pandi and an EP with Closed Circuits, as well as a collaboration with Closed Circuits and The Transmutations.
I was also contacted at the end of last year by Anthony Di Franco about an interesting collaborative project which we will hopefully start working on in the not too distant future. I am also performing a live soundtrack to accompany a reworking of the William Burroughs and Antony Balch Cut Up footage by Raymond Salvatore Harmon at the Horse Hospital in April, at an event organised by Joe Ambrose.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you've recorded for us? Is there a particular theme or idea behind it?
AJH: I wanted to record something that not only flowed nicely but that had a sonic connection between the tracks and artists. There has been a lot of hyperbole of late about noise artists who have, supposedly, suddenly added beats to their work and in the process reinvented techno. Not to detract from what these artists are doing in any way, but if you have followed their music for years then you would realise that these elements have always been there in their work beneath the surface and it was inevitable, a logical progression even, for them to move in this direction. It makes sense!
It is interesting, yes, but there is another side that doesn't seem to get that much attention that I find equally, if not more, interesting. That is, the amount of dance music producers who have, after years of working in their respective fields, thrown off the constraints that dance music brings and moved on to a more freeform approach to their music, incorporating elements of noise and improvisation. I think that Emptyset, Roly Porter and Yves De Mey are great examples of this. Also, Powell is one of the few producers out there in this field who, despite it being implicitly clear when listening to his music, is genuinely influenced by D&B, yet this never seems to get picked up on. You can almost see the Nico & Ed Rush No U Turn records next to his No Wave albums.
Imaginary Forces mix - Ineluctable Modality Of The Audible
Sturqen - 'Mare'
Silent Servant & Luis Farfan - 'La Negra Luna'
Ancient Methods - 'First Method 1'
Imaginary Forces - 'Preternatural'
Imaginary Forces - 'Old Rituals'
Imaginary Forces - 'Enlightenment'
Emptyset - 'Function: Vulgar Display of Power (Roly Porter Variation)'
Yves De Mey - 'Ice Carrier'
Bernard Parmegiani - 'L'oeil Ecoute'
Sawf - 'Sand#1'
Emptyset - 'Collapse'
Imaginary Forces - 'Enumeration of the things and beings lost on the way'
Mika Vainio - 'Magnetosphere'
Powell - 'Oh No New York'
John Wiese - 'Circle Snare (Second Part)'
Ugandan Methods - 'A Cold Retreat'
Scalameriya - 'Summoning Sequence (Ancient Methods Remix)'
For more on Imaginary Forces, click here to visit his website