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INTERVIEW: Drokk At The Dark Outside
Laurie Tuffrey , September 26th, 2014 16:40

Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow will be blasting live electronics into Galloway Forest tomorrow night, effects pedals and bacon in tow. Here, Salisbury gives us the inside track about the performance, as well as their work on the score for Alex Garland's new film Ex Machina

Tomorrow night, September 27, will see this year's edition of The Dark Outside taking place in Galloway Forest, Scotland. In one of the finest uses, nay, the finest, of forestry and radio waves, organiser Frenchbloke will be transmitting entirely original compositions or previously unheard pieces into the forest through an FM broadcast with them disappearing into the ether, deleted and never to be heard again. Contributions this year come from Carter Tutti, Cleaners From Venus, Black Channels, Wanda Group, Hacker Farm, L/F/D/M and tQ's own John Doran collaborating with Gnod, among many, many others; go to the website for details and the full line-up. There's also a lecture from Innes Smith of the Scottish Society for Psychical Research and live works from Zoviet*france, Ruaridh Law and Dave Fyans, Unicorn Diagram and Rupert Lally and Espen J Jörgensen and Drokk, the collaboration between Portishead/BEAK>'s Geoff Barrow and composer Ben Salisbury. It comes after Music Inspired By Mega-City One, their soundtrack to an imagined sci-fi flick based on Judge Dredd in 2012 and ahead of their soundtrack for the new Alex Garland film Ex Machina, due out next year. We asked Salisbury to fill us in.

What can you tell us about yours and Geoff's plans for The Dark Outside?

Ben Salisbury: Um... plans?! We are driving up to Scotland in my camper van to make some noise in a forest in the middle of nowhere. (When Geoff plays with Portishead it's all posh hotels and luxury tour buses - I'm beginning to think I'm in the wrong band.) Hopefully we will be there before it gets dark, and then play something later that night, but to be honest it is a bit of a journey into the unknown for us. I'm excited...

How did you come to decide on performing it live? Have you got a structure in mind or will it be improvised?

BS: Both me and Geoff are big fans of what Stuart (Frenchbloke) is doing with The Dark Outside, and the idea that music, even recorded music, can be a unique event rather than something that is always on tap. Last year we sent up a Drokk piece, and got talking about how it would be a great thing to visit in the future. So really this is an excuse for a couple of middle aged men to have a small adventure, while also being part of an event we believe in, and to which we can hopefully contribute, with some interesting sounds. As to what we are going to play - we have a loose structure in mind, although due to the nature of our set-up there is always room for a large degree of improvisation, and this seems particularly apt given the ethos of this event.

How do you think playing deep in Galloway Forest will affect what you produce?

BS: Who knows? But I'm sure it will. In fact I am really looking forward to that element of not knowing what to expect. Maybe we'll just be scaring the deer, or we will have to turn it all down to avoid being attacked by a stampede of crazed cows.

With Ex Machina, can you give us any details about your upcoming soundtrack?

BS: Well... it was a amazing project to be involved with. It's a fairly intense psychological thriller/sci-fi, with a brilliant cast and some fantastic performances, and it was great to be able to continue our working relationship with Alex Garland, who was partly responsible for the formation of mine and Geoff's score-writing partnership in the first place. And music has a very important role to play in the film, although it is not really a Drokk score in the sense that, while it leans heavily on the electronic side of things, it is not purely driven by a stark analogue synth approach. We were working on the film from quire early in the post-production period, and it is a very creatively fulfilling experience to feel you are a part of the dramatic and emotional shape that the film is taking. The fact that me and Geoff are now considering a 14-hour round trip to Scotland together means it must have gone okay! The film is out at the end of January and I will be really intrigued to see how it goes down, although I'm sure it will make a few waves because it is definitely a quality piece of work.

Have you altered your approach at all since Mega-City One? Have you got any new additions to your synth set-up?

BS: For the work on Ex Machina, as I've said, the approach was considerably different, and we've used heavily manipulated brass, and layered guitars, among other things, alongside the synths and electronics. But hopefully we have continued with a sort of ethos that we applied to the Drokk record - of trying to produce music that is not 'overwritten', and is more stark and spare than a conventional Hollywood orchestral score. For future projects we will no doubt change our approach again, so perhaps we will keep Drokk as this very pure synth project, meaning it is unlikely to have any drastic changes in set-up. The Drokk record was so minimal though, that we didn't even EQ or effect the synths in any way, so we only need to add some reverb for a whole new world to open up - and we might well bring an effects pedal up to Scotland with us! Along with some bacon, if anyone fancies a bacon sandwich in the morning.