INTERVIEW: Mark Titchner & Grumbling Fur Discuss Rose

Mark Titchner, Alexander Tucker and Daniel O'Sullivan discuss this Thursday's performance of Rose at the Camden Roundhouse

‘Rose’, Mark Titchner, 2014. (Screens 1 and 2 of 4) from mark titchner on Vimeo.

This Thursday marks a diversion for Grumbling Fur’s live activity around the otherworldly pop of Preternaturals as they head to the Camden Roundhouse Studio to perform Rose with Mark Titchner. Titchner is, of course, the Turner Prize-nominated artist who designed the eye-twisting artwork for the album which we released on The Quietus Phonographic Corporation earlier this year. Rose was originally installed at the Dilston Grove Gallery in South East London: two gigantic screens showed a mass of blurred colour as slogans influenced by CIA interrogation techniques flashed up on the screen. Not knowing that at the time was quite a strange experience – Alexander Tucker and Daniel O’Sullivan’s live accompaniment to the vivid images and words on screen created a curious euphoria within the concrete walls of the former church. Rose will be presented by the Illuminations Festival, organised by Rock Feedback, this Thursday November 6th, and you can find more information here. We spoke to Mark Titcher, Alexander Tucker and Daniel O’Sullivan to find out more.

When did you all meet?

Alexander Tucker: I met Mark through a mutual friend I went to the Slade with. Mark was working on a piece inspired by a book by R D Laing called Knots. We collaborated using electronics and I sang the text appearing within the Knots video piece. Mark then invited Grumbling Fur to collaborate on an epic new piece for Dilston Grove gallery in Southwark Park.

Mark Titchner: Alex and I met a few years back. I was working on a pretty harsh drone sound piece and a mutual artist friend heard enough through the floor boards to suggest that I contact Alex. I knew Alex’s work well already so I was more than happy at the suggestion. I met Daniel shortly afterwards and we’ve been joyously tangled up ever since.

Mark, what is it you admire about Grumbling Fur?

MT: What I admire most about Alex and Daniel is the freedom they allow their creativity. There is no sense of boundaries within their aspirations for their work. Grumbling Fur distills this into a pop/folk/psyche frame which is quite accessible but it’s the gateway to a whole raft of experimentation that both are wholeheartedly committed to.  

What similarities do you see in how you work?

AT: As well as using text Mark’s work also has strong connections to painting, utilising texture and surface. Both Mark and GF use cut-up processes, layering, displacement and the re-ordering of everyday language and communication. Mark is an avid collector of experimental music, from drone, noise, metal, lo-fi weirdness. His work is quite brave in trying to bring some of the pathos of live music to the gallery space.

And Mark, how about you?

MT: I think that ultimately we are all interested in a sense of the divine and the obliteration of the self. When I started working on ‘Rose’ which I always wanted to be an immersive, emotional work, I always imagined that Alex and Daniel would create the sound. Alex once said to me that he thought that in my work I was trying to capture the intense feeling that you sometimes experience at a gig, of complete transcendent elevation. Though I don’t think I’ve managed that very often it has always been my aspiration and it meant a lot that Alex was the first person to say that. Other than that our influences are pretty similar in both visual arts and music and the experience of growing up in Britain in the 80s and 90s. Inspiration-wise we share a lot, probably too much to mention. 

What was your intention with Rose?

MT: My work is really about how we receive ideas about ourselves from outside of our lived experience, that leads to all kind of expectations about how or what our lives should be. With Rose I wanted to make something very melodramatic and affecting. A work that you experience first and then process afterwards and one that makes you aware that you are being manipulated.  ‘Rose’ uses very simple language and very simple shifts in language to move from what appears to be a supportive, tone to something much more oppressive and threatening.

How did the imagery for ‘Rose’ come together?

MT: The original version of the work at Dilston Grove, in South London was on four screens each depicting the four elements overlaid with a pulsing red dot (the Rose) and text. The work begins gently but becomes increasingly fragmented and dissonant. ‘Rose’ referred both to the alchemical symbol of the Rosicrucian cross but also the idea of ascension (to arise) and how that is translated quite banally into ‘self improvement’ in our culture.

I hadn’t realised until after the Dilston Grove performance that the slogans were used in torture. This was quite odd after I had found the afternoon so uplifting. Can you tell us about them? How did you discover them? Was the aim to recontextualise the slogans, negating their power?

MT: At the time I was making the work I was interested in the Kubark Manual which is a declassified CIA interrogation manual. Rather than using text from the manual I looked at the way subjects were coerced; the process by which someone is opened up and then objectified. In terms of the use of language I was also influenced by Alfred Korzybski’s particularly around the verb ‘to be’ and the idea that something so seemingly mundane can have a huge influence on our perception of the world.

Daniel O’Sullivan: The words are telling you what you are, they’re a kind of instrument or a device. The sound is just on. You can’t switch off from that. So what words do you like or not like to hear and what sounds do you like or not like to hear? How do you engage with both at the same time or neither? It’s like the relationship between subject and object. Pointless to quantify. Necessary to explore. Because it’s something to do.

Can you tell us about the Grumbling Fur Time Machine Orchestra?

DOS: The Time Machine Orchestra is a pseudonym for our sound experiments outside of a songwriting context. We recorded an album with Charlemagne Palestine (which is out next January on Important Records) which is focused more on drone, improvisation and extended techniques. Our work with Mark has a similar focus. Rose in particular has a repetitive, monolithic quality that lends itself sonically to a tonal centre, as one would find in Carnatic music.

What can we expect on November 6th? Will this be a very different performance?

MT: The aim for the soundtrack for the work was to create something ‘sonic’, we were lucky enough to be able to use a 7.1 system and the boys certainly made the most of it! For the Roundhouse show they’ll be working with some additional musicians and expanding the whole piece into a single channel work in four distinct sections so there are all kinds of new dynamic possibilities within the piece. 

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