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INTERVIEW: Clark On 'Bach Evolution'
Patrick Clarke , April 29th, 2019 13:00

Warp Records mainstay Clark on his new composition inspired by Bach, to be debuted this week at the Royal Albert Hall


On May 1, alongside performances by classical heavyweights Peter Gregson and Vikingur Ólafsson, Warp Records mainstay Clark will be unveiling a brand new piece, a specially-arranged composition inspired by the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, performed with London-based cellist, composer and producer Olly Coates.

The show, titled Bach Evolution, marks the finale of classical label Deutsche Grammophon’s 120th birthday celebrations, as well as a part of the Royal Albert Hall’s ongoing ‘Love Classical’ season, which aims to celebrate new and distinctive voices in classical music.

Clark may be the most distinctive of them all. For his piece he drew on early loves of Bach’s music, and the ‘proto-happy hardcore’ of his French Suites. Speaking to tQ, Clark says that although he feels ‘out of his depth’ when it comes to musicianship when compared to the likes of Gregson and Ólafsson, the ‘sprawling’ world of classical music has long been an inspiration when it comes to his work in electronic music.

For tickets and more info about Bach Evolution click here. For tQ’s interview with Clark, read on.

tQ: Tell us about your relationship with Bach's music. Has classical music long been an inspiration?

I’ve been into his Bach since around the age of five, so I was really excited when I was approached to play this show at the Royal Albert Hall. I’m not the most knowledgeable, but remember hearing ‘Air On The G String’ from a cassette dictaphone we had, and that piece is so entrenched in culture. But when you’re five you don’t really have cynicism, I was spellbound. It felt like a description of both an inner emotional world and an outer world of mathematically perfect architecture.

Classical music is such a massive sprawling entity it feels a bit wrong to refer to it as a monolithic genre. I think for a lot of people it’s ‘the strings and trumpets stuff’, which is fine, obviously. I don’t really understand horn sections, although I love the way Jóhann Jóhannsson used them. And Mogwai. I like the texture but just wouldn’t know what to do with it. I go all “Sorry, it’s not you, it’s me…”

But I’ve always written music with strings in mind. I play the piano a lot, and the cello and violin a bit, enough to get the odd phrase I like, but having Olly Coates onboard for Bach Evolution is going to be ace cause he’s bloody amazing at it and more importantly unusually open to trying new things. It’s a certain outlook that I’m after, a certain take on things. The technical aspect can come after…

How did you come to get involved with the Bach Evolution show?

I was approached by the Royal Albert Hall programming team, who asked me to make a piece as part of the Hall’s ‘Love Classical’ season, which explores the past, present and future of classical music. I had been brushing up a bit on my piano so it instinctively felt like a no brainer to agree to it.

At first it felt a bit out of the blue that I would get involved in a classical show, There’s obviously an aspect of this that is slightly comedy, as I’m out of my depth in terms of musicianship compared to Peter Gregson and Víkingur Ólafsson, both incredible players. I’m very aware of how it looks, it could go wrong, it feels like a risk, it could be like watching a vase fall on the floor in slow motion, but these kind of gigs excite me. I’m slightly bored by how a lot of artists never risk ‘brand contamination’. Even people who are quite over-praised for being rebellious and subversive quite often just insist on being seen in the same old shoes and hat. I guess I’m more of an admirer of Picasso than Rothko.

I’ve always made mischief at the boundaries of genre, so I see nothing weird with checking out, say, Meshuggah’s time patterns and seeing some correlation with Bach’s use of polyrhythms, or hearing how most vocal melodies in modern music borrow in some way from Bach’s incredible ear for a good hook. Bach is just so uncannily good at harmony and you can learn a lot from looking into his music even if you end up rejecting it or doing something totally different. I have a bit of a deviant attitude towards genre, poking fun at its surface affectations. If you chip away at music for long enough you begin to hear a massive web of interconnected foundations ripe for turning your way. It seems that genre is something marketing people do, it’s easier to make money if you can silo things off into different genres. Money is interesting but what is exponentially more interesting to me and less expedient is customising all sound into an artefact that represents my specific unrepeatable experience of the world. And Bach features heavily in that.

What was your approach to your new composition? Were there any Bach pieces in particular that you went to first?

I went for French suites, It’s the one that makes me most angry at how good it is. There’s even some proto-happy hardcore in that one. I reckon Hudson Mohawke would like it, I’m going to have to send him some.

Are you approaching the live performance any differently than you would normally?

Yeah, totally differently. It’s all midi’d up pianos and one hardware synth that I can’t be bothered to sync. It’s way more fun having to dial the sequences in in real time, much like how Jeff Mills uses a 909 when he DJs. I’m using it against the piano rather than with it. They will meet in the middle I’m sure. Should be a right laugh!

Beyond the Bach evolution show, what's next for you musically?

I can’t really see beyond this show at the moment, but I’ve just finished an album and a score for a film and have another two albums to finish. They usually go from being an alright album of 50 tracks to a quite good album of 25 to an album of 10-15 tracks that I want to release so much I get fears at night of kicking the bucket before it’s completed. So I’m quite excited about all of it :D

Clark performs at the Royal Albert Hall on May 1 alongside Peter Gregson and Vikingur Ólafsson. For tickets and more information click here.