Read Joseph Stannard's interview transcript (excerpt)
What follows is an excerpt from the combined in-person/email interview between Joseph Stannard and Broadcast which resulted in issue #308's cover feature.
The Wire: Can you take me through each of the six song-based tracks on Witch Cults Of The Radio Age, one by one?
Trish Keenan: “I'd like people to enjoy the
album as a Hammer horror dream collage where Broadcast play the
role of the guest band at the mansion drug party by night, and a
science worshipping Eloi possessed by 3/4 rhythms by day, all
headed by the Focus Group leader who lays down sonic laws that
break through the corrective systems of timing and keys.”
“The Be Colony”
“Written from the perspective of a mythological harmony group. I like the idea of conjuring up a weird cult of science worship, a kind of modern day Eloi who believe in a united being, the unity of all things. The kind of early philosophy I imagine ancient men and women were in touch with, that innate loop of thinking that regarded the world not as something we are in, but as a place that is present within us. The fuzz guitar makes me think of that C.A. Quintet cave setting and the 3/4 dark and obsessive waltz is kind of a world turning, dawn of a new era feel.”
“I wrote this after a trip to the British Museum. I meant it as
a kind of ritual song, how I thought a song for January would go. I
wrote an introduction to it in the style of Mort Garson's
Zodiac - Cosmic Sounds: "A call to January. Melt in the rise of
the inner solar. You are of the world, return to yourself. A new
beginning is a light within."
“Libra, The Mirror's Minor Self”
“I wrote this over an instrumental written by James. A misty loop with rummaging sounds that reminded me of the theme to [the 1969 TV adaptation of Alan Garner's children's novel] The Owl Service. I liked the idea of a disembodied voice that floats across a piece of music without feeling attached to any pulse. The words were a cut up of my horoscope. I quite like the caring tone of horoscopes and found shuffling the words around a bit added up to something quite gentle and cryptic. To me it's how a seance mirror would speak, luring you to its reflection by a kindly tone but when you look in for an answer, you're totally confused by what you see. I was actually frightened by the way The Focus Group laid heavy bass fragments and electronics over the top of the song, and as I saw it, at a crucial point in the first resolution of the vocal line. It's like authorial sound enters to say 'No! That's not how it's going to be' and suddenly the vocal disappears and you're left out on your own not knowing who you are. I was really keen to not be me on these recordings. I was happy to be somehow erased from the context of the recording. The identity of my voice corrupted and disguised by tape slowing and reversal.”
“I guess the first question I asked myself before writing this
was, what does a medium's song go like? I knew the hypnosis of a
3/4 rhythm could work and a loose improvised feel of someone
channelling unexpected visitors. I began by looping some autoharp
and throwing prepared words into vocal melodies. I captured the
recording on a dictaphone. the idea of setting up a 'pro' recording
channel seemed to go against the basic idea of automatic
channelling... and I like the way tape is it's own magnetic entity.
To me it sounds like an Edith Sitwell character in a curtain-drawn
parlour trying to contact lost songs, and suddenly being overrun by
them, the overlaid foley gives the impression of them trying to get
in through the doors and trying to desperately contact her by
telephone, it was a very visual outcome, I thought. Actually, I
think the song is a subconscious reaction to the fact that I
haven't put any songs out into the world for a long time.”
“Make My Sleep His Song”
“This is a kind of LaVey lament where the female character is complicit in the strange event. I like those moments in British films like The Wicker Man and The Witches, when you're not quite sure if the people of the village know all about the odd occurrences or not but an accidental citing or overheard conversation reveals that they are as much apart of the bizarre set up as the suspicious and aloof owner of the stately home.”
“This is an incantation taken from The Witches' Bible. I think it has a joyous innocence and obsessiveness that works well towards the end of the EP, it recollects all the sensory events without revealing what really happened.”
How did the collaborative process between yourselves and Julian work?
Trish: “The title came first, we initially spoke about collaborating on an EP based loosely around the idea of Electronic Voice Phenomenon but in the context of a Hammer horror film. We were keen to conjure up the psychedelic witch party at the mansion scenario too, also to keep the idea 'pop' and tongue in cheek, very conscious of not becoming too dry. I went to the local church and recorded some songs and vocal loops with the idea in mind. Next we swapped sound files then met up to compare what we'd done. we could see instantly that it added up to bit more than an EP but we didn't start edit it down for an EP, we just let it dictate its own size. There was even the chance that Warp might not want to put it out, but we took the risk, it seemed so completely wrong to try to contain it. We met up again 2 weeks later, Julian stayed with us for a weekend and in an editing mayhem we put the whole thing together in sequence.”
James Cargill: “Initially we sent Julian a selection of sounds, from full improvised recordings to individual components of existing songs. Trish had these more sparse songs. We all liked the idea of our songs becoming entangled with the sound of The Focus Group. We then spent a weekend putting it all together. It was interesting the way a strange narrative started to develop, the songs seemed to be responding to the sound around them, even with the lyrics. We were feeling Jeff Keen's Cineblatz stuff, The Vampires Of Dartmoor's Dracula's Music Cabinet and the Fading Yellow comps so that was all feeding in with the effects, collage, psych tunes and all.”
Can you outline the differences between writing and
recording, as you see them?
James: “Recording in bedrooms and flats, which is unfortunately how we record mostly, is a rather difficult technical exercise a lot of the time, depending on what we are trying to achieve. I think for a lot of people who have a strong working method writing and recording are one and the same thing. We sort of developed the improvising side to try and make the writing and recording merge a little... but no real joy there. It's been interesting working with The Focus Group and how the improvised vocal parts have fitted so well into the collage and effects... sort of like a place between writing and recording where you lose ownership of your work and a new narrative takes hold... a sort of musical magic hour.”
How would you describe the character of your previous
James: “It certainly felt with Haha Sound that we managed to get close to where we wanted, incorporating our love for Czech films, library music etc. Tender Buttons is the first time we worked as a duo. It completely changed the sound, dynamics, everything really. Its sparseness is a result of that but we were also quite certain we wanted to take a different turn from Haha. It wasn't actually meant to end up sounding the way it did. Those were sort of example versions to be arranged and played in a group. But the group never materialised.”
You're both clearly fond of artistic manifestations of the uncanny and your music often exudes an eerie, ectoplasmic feel - can you elaborate a little on the 'paranormal' aspect of Broadcast?
Trish: “For me the paranormal is most powerful when it's unassuming, not obviously spooky or dark and I do feel synchrony and coincidence all the time. For example, when we first moved from Birmingham to Hungerford I noticed these odd reminders of people and things from the last place, object names and people names were crossing over, swapping. For instance we shared a house in Birmingham with a man called Jerome and when we moved to Hungerford he was suddenly replaced by a boat. The lady who occupies the downstairs flat was his girlfriend's doppleganger. Even my mom was replaced by an old toothless poodle!”
James: “Between dark and light, a sort of magic hour... in practical terms we wanted to make music that existed outside dark/heavy/technical/masculine and lighter/pop/marketed stuff. We were into somewhere other than those probably through film, probably coming back to Alice In Wonderland, Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders, etc.”
Can you describe the qualities you enjoy in the music of artists such as The United States Of America, White Noise, 50 Foot Hose, et al?
James: “I think it's a kind of sonic Alice In Wonderland. Maybe that type of female voice amidst all the strange clanging and gurgling is the appeal. Those groups successfully combined psych rock with electronic sound and experimentalism, particularly The United States Of America, where many more blues based projects failed rather horribly. That combo seems quite normal now – rock/electronic/avant – but there really are only a handful of records from that time that made it work, for us anyways. Not to say we're not fond of post-Piper At The Gates Of Dawn/Sergeant Pepper psych but the United States Of America and White Noise records really are outstanding from that period, even if they do have some dodgy bits.”
Trish: “The things that inspire me most about
these bands is that they have helped me to expand my thinking on
what psychedelic is or can be now. I'm not interested in the bubble
poster trip, 'remember Woodstock' idea of the sixties. What carries
over for me is the idea of psychedelia as a door through to another
way of thinking about sound and song. Not a world only reachable by
hallucinogens but obtainable by questioning what we think is real
and right, by challenging the conventions of form and temper. Bands
like The United States Of America, White Noise, A To Austr and a
recently discovered album for me, The Mesmerizing Eye, all use
audio collage, clashes of sound that work more in the way the mind
works, the way life works, extreme juxtapositions of memories and
heavy traffic noise say, or reading emails and wasps coming through
the window. But as well, I feel that in my own small way I am part
of that psych band continuum, but in a make believe reality stemmed
off to exist outside of the canon.
“When I listen to, say, the Fading Yellow compilations I notice instantly there is very little in the way of female vocalists exploring the wonderland of words or nonsense with deeper meaning. That's what makes these bands special, they represent for me a better sixties one without sexism or racism. It always seems as though music is ahead of political correctness or social thought. In the late eighties I was obsessed with the kitchen sink idea of the 60s, I felt umbilically connected with it because of my upbringing, it was the Britain I was born into, a Cathy Come Home England. I discovered psychedelia and it seemed to have self help properties that allowed me to let go of an immobilizing working class pride that was cementing a false identity into my psyche, stopping me from transforming.
“What excites me now is the female voice playing games with words and vocal sound while managing to anchor deeper philosophical concerns. I get excited by combinations of play and meaning explored by contemporary artists such as Samara Lubelski or bands like Rings and Directing Hand. They seem to gesture towards the absurd and playful at the same time as having a kind of fearless form experimentation, a sort of musical plate tectonics.”
Some of the things we have discussed including automatic writing, improv, channelling voices and The Master And Margarita suggest that you are interested in allowing 'other forces' a part in the decision making process. How important is this to Broadcast?
Trish: “There are some definite 'involuntary' aspects on the record, for example, I had an idea that if I improvised words vocally I would end up with some odd juxtapositions, a kind of lucky bag of words that could feel totally random but what I found was I couldn't shape the words out of my mouth fast enough, instead I was left muttering at the edge of language, sounding more like Kurt Schwitters than the odd shop of nouns and verbs I was hoping for. It's an unexpected result that works as a multiple voice loop at the end of “Ritual/Looking In”. On the other hand, some of the ideas I was certain would work, just plain didn't. The first attempt at "A Seancing Song" was a ballad with a ring modulated choir of ghosts behind the lead voice. What you chose to reveal is just as crucial – this has been said a million times, I know. A lot of my attempts will never see the light of day. When song experiments go wrong... they're like the unseen horror that leaks gently through the sweetness.
“In a way it's hard to suggest we used 'automatic' techniques in the creation of the EP. I'd say because we had a loose concept and a title first we explored a place once removed from the notion of automatic, more like improvisation within constraints. I imagine the results of a true automatic process to be devoid of any conscious logic or meaning and in this context I'd think words like impulsive and subconscious seem to sit better. The lyrics and vocal lines I wrote were more a combination of free form improvisation combined with surrealist word techniques. “Will You Read Me” includes an extract from an improv session by James and myself on phillicorda and detuned autoharp. Julian dissected it and layered over a reverse vocal loop and some of Neil Bullock's drumming. It's intriguing to me how Julian gets close to an automatic feel without actually being so, it's as though to him the audio is playable memory, like an organ of recall where the keys are years or genres apart instead of octaves.
“Improvisation gives you no time to think or to be yourself. You have to keep holding and releasing sounds from the instrument, make decisions based on... what, I wonder – intuition maybe? You do wonder where it's all coming from, what tells you to let go or hold on and for how long and when. Who is making those decisions?. Suddenly you're not yourself, as though you've created another you, in the same way a cell divides, it's like a creative biology or something. I wonder if when there are fewer people around you feel the need to divide more? It's more of a compulsion than an artist decision.”
James: “This is quite strong with the new
recordings. With collaboration in mind we had purposefully left
holes in arrangements and structure, unexpected events emerged as
we began to piece it all together. The unexpected forces are far
more likely in a group scenario... cults, covens, women's
institutes. Groups of people need to channel their energy.”
Can you give a brief history of Broadcast's improvised performances?
James: “After Tender Buttons we were fortunate enough
to do some recording for Steve Beresford and Mark Sanders - improv
heavyweights of course – and at the same time we were doing some
'jams' with Gas Shepherds who were putting CDRs out with Chocolate
Monk. It was fascinating to see these musicians from opposite ends
of the 'musical ability' ladder effectively doing the same thing. I
guess that thing is playing music freely... I wouldn't say they
sounded similar but we sort of fell in love with that idea for some
time. We did a few shows just improvising then we began playing to
short films, eventually leading to our collaboration with Ghost Box
for the Winter Sun Wavelengths film.”
Julian House has said, "The Radiophonic Workshop is always associated with science fiction and retro-futurism, but what I find in them is something strange and ancient, sort of 'witchy'." Does this ring true for you also?
Trish: “Yes, what Julian says here is really interesting. The Radiophonic Workshop were mediums in a way, they gave voice to the objects around them, enabling lamps, rulers and bottles to speak in sound..in a playful humorous way as well, even someone's stomach gets a say in the belching on Major Bloodnok's Stomach. Compositionally there was sorcery too, lots of strange pulses and syncopation, the Dr Who theme has an odd galloping feel and Delia Derbyshire's collaboration with Anthony Newley, “Moogies Bloogies”, has a kind of broken accent, which is funny and eerie at the same time. It makes sense to me that if the witches of the 17th Century made music it would have been playful and hypnotic and made with indecipherable sounds, not music made with pitch perfect, well tempered instrumentation. That would be the type of music the Witchfinder General would have approved of.”
James: “The Radiophonic Workshop seems to exist in a place outside any obvious musical association. To think of it as kitsch, nostalgic or ironic is missing the point. There is no ironic value for me. It's sometimes quite disturbing, possibly because of the simplistic melodic content coupled with unrecognisable sound palettes, mostly it seems so reflective of that period late 60s/early 70s Britain. I actually think that it's quite a dark and disturbing era and sometimes the more out of context or more folky or childlike the composition, the more unsettled and out of place you feel.”
Broadcast songs often sound to me like memories,
distant, fuzzy recollections of an emotion, time or
James: “Yes... similar in a way to Chris Marker's Sans Soleil.”
Trish: “I think the evocation of
memory in our music could be seen as the residue of imaginary time
travel. You can either go forward or back. You go back in order to
change something in the now, to redesign the course of events for
personal reasons. When you go back to a previous musical time
you're trying to recall a memory that never happened to you, that
is not stored, so it would make sense that you hear a fuzzy
dissolving sense of time and place as you call it. When you make
music in backwards time travel it's shadowy or faint impression as
though you're looking back through two clouded lenses, one is the
time travel portal the other is a false recollection process.
“In a way, when I go back to my own memories I feel as if that's not me either, when I think about myself as 13 or 20 I feel a disconnection from that person. It's the same with dreams. When you recall the events it never really happened to the waking you, but to the dreaming you. Memories are waking dreams and dreams are sleeping memories, when you make music inspired by this process you begin to break down conventional form in the same way that dreams and memories never start at the beginning or finish at the end. It seems to me that the past is always happening now, all previous events have positioned us here philosophically, geographically, and in the present we are always in memory... unless you're a Zen monk of course.”