TEN QUESTIONS WITH TALVIHORROS AND DAMIAN VALLES ON MONUMENTS AND RUINS
In celebration of the June 10th release of Monuments and Ruins, we asked its two creators to elaborate on the material they produced for the project and discuss the various techniques they used to bring it to life. In his recent Fluid Radio review of the release, Fred Nolan called Monuments and Ruins "an important work by both composers" and stated that "(i)n both cases it stands among the best of their work." Though we're hardly the most objective of critics, we too think the split release is a superb addition to their respective discographies and are proud to have played a part in bringing it into the world.
FIVE QUESTIONS FOR TALVIHORROS (BEN CHATWIN)
1. Did you have any programmatic content in mind while creating “From Within A Hollow Body” to help you design the concept for the piece, or did you simply follow your muse where it led you?
Initially I spoke with Damian to see if we could find a common approach or concept that would give us a starting point for the material. I thought it would be interesting to see how we would both react to the same starting point. After discussing many ideas, we settled for the simple idea of using solely stringed instruments and in particular the acoustic guitar and the possibilities this provided. Much of the material for my two tracks started out at some point on an acoustic guitar—whether that was using it conventionally to sketch out chord sequences or in more experimental ways such as using the body of the guitar as a reverb chamber, playing sounds into it, then recording them reverberating around the body.
2. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it the case that the material you created afforded you the opportunity to explore some new techniques, things you hadn't done before? What were they?
As mentioned, using the body of a guitar as a reverb chamber was something I had never tried before. I tried to use the guitar in as many different ways as I could: from hitting it for percussive sounds, scraping and plucking different parts of the guitar with various objects and sticking bits of metal in the fret-boards to create more percussive sounds. I think the most important discovery for me though was when I bowed the acoustic guitar for the first time; I was shocked by what I heard, as I could achieve sounds ranging from deep cello-esque tones to almost screaming metallic scrapes, often in the same bow stroke. It is this that provides the character of the first track and bowed acoustic guitar features prominently on both tracks. It's a technique I hope to explore further. I had previously used a bow on an electric guitar and not found anything to interest me so this was a great find for me.
3. The first part of the piece is some of the most aggressive sounding material I've heard you create (and I mean that in the most complimentary sense); that especially comes forth in the final mastered version and when the music is played at a gloriously loud volume. Were you surprised by how aggressive the track turned out to be or was that something you had in mind to do all along?
When thinking about the using an acoustic guitar as the primary sound source I immediately thought I wanted to create something that was far removed from the general idea of what the instrument is used for. I wanted something that was percussive, dynamic, and perhaps more electronic sounding, something that was dense and harsh. This was achieved immediately by hitting the guitar with a mallet for the percussive ‘kick drum' sound and bowing for the rising and falling strings sound.
During the mixing process for my last album Descent Into Delta, something clicked, and I came to understand more where my strengths lie as a composer and the sort of music I've been trying (and perhaps falling short) to make. As such, all the material I've written since that record has a much more complete feel to me and is also much more aggressive in nature. Although I am considered an ambient or drone artist, my primary goal is to make music that demands attention—I want to create a physical force that must be engaged with. I don't want to make background music or some sort of ambient drift. Although what my music is used for is in the hands of the listener.
4. One of my favourite parts of the recording comes during the final minutes of part two when that beautiful coda kicks in, specifically that three-note motif that strikes me as a brilliant example of your compositional gifts. How did you come up with such a beautiful resolution?
I'm perhaps much more of a traditional composer than my music might suggest. I studied music at University so regardless of what music I'm making I nearly always work with structured chord sequences. So, for example, in the piece that you mention there may be a few minutes of acoustic guitar drone work before the coda, but I am, in fact, working around a pre-determined chord sequence that starts to reveals itself by the end. I try to hint that there is more than just a drone there by using guitar harmonics to play elements of the chords. These chords are fully realized when I play them clean on the acoustic guitar. I knew I wanted to end the piece with a clean acoustic guitar part that was complemented by chiming electric guitar, something more melodic that would give a definitive end to the two pieces. Almost out of respect for the acoustic guitar I wanted to play something quite traditional, simple yet beautiful, so I'm pleased that you feel I have achieved this.
5. I know you've got other releases in the works besides the one for textura. What else will we be hearing from you in the coming months?
I will be releasing re-mixed and mastered versions of my first two albums Some Ambulance and Music In Four Movements on vinyl thanks to Denovali. They will also be releasing my next full-length album, which is almost finished, called And It Was So. This is an album based loosely on the book of Genesis and the seven days of creation and will be my darkest and noisiest work to date.
I've embarked on a project for Dan Crossley at Fluid Radio, which is what I'm currently working on and may well see release before the end of the year. Without giving too much away, it's quite a personal work which has been a somewhat challenging experience so far, but I feel will be something quite special when it's complete. I feel really honoured to be a part of this project.Finally, I also have a split with Ekca Liena coming out on Eric Quach's TQA label soon, and I'm trying (and mostly failing) to find the time to mix some live recordings that were made from my recent tours for a live CD.
FIVE QUESTIONS FOR DAMIAN VALLES
1. As is already evident from the promo text I wrote for Monuments and Ruins, I couldn't help but visualize some ghoulish specter of some kind rising from a backwater swamp as I listened to “Hollow Earth Theory.” Did you have any particular image or concept in mind for the piece as you were creating it?
I think, for me, when I start a track I don't really have anything in mind until it starts morphing and taking shape as I work through it. The first stages are always a bit like putting a puzzle together and during that process of figuring out where the piece is going, the sounds I extrapolate on tend to dictate the overall feeling. I will say that, these days, I am drawn towards music that has an eerie, dark aspect to it, and I've always liked incorporating some type of field recording or natural sounds because they tend to always sound a little “off” and imperfect. It's hard to explain, but I find imperfections really intriguing and make a point of leaving “mistakes” or weird tuning in a track; it adds character and makes it feel more like a living thing than some cold, calculating robotic sequence. The title “Hollow Earth Theory” came after the piece was completed. I think suits it well since it was created using mainly hollow-bodied instruments and it did end up sounding quite cavernous. I should add that it was made during a cold night in November with my first child's birth imminent. Perhaps that had something to do with it (laughs). As well, some people would probably say I live in a backwater swamp.
2. If memory serves me correctly, you, like Ben, applied some new techniques (or at least ones you hadn't previously explored quite so extensively) to the textura piece. What new things did you try?
I'm not sure the term ‘technique' necessarily applies. We had discussed the concept of the recording prior to us writing the actual piece(s) and through that brainstorming, we agreed upon setting a sort of ‘boundary' or ‘limitation' to how we would construct the sounds and approach the recording. We talked about using acoustic instrumentation exclusively, particularly stringed instruments, and the challenge was to utilize those instruments to their full potential, whether it was playing them the traditional way or using alternative techniques to achieve different sounds and textures. Ah, there, I said ‘technique,' so I guess it does apply. Ha.
3. The textura piece is, of course, long-form at twenty-two minutes, and I love such pieces for the total, prolonged immersion they provide to the listener. Skeleton Taxa, your recent Drifting Falling release, by contrast, is made up of largely shorter pieces. Do you approach a track differently if you're intending it to be short or long?
As far as approaching tracks differently, in general, I would say no. I basically start out every track the same way. I open up my software and just start recording. However, once I have gotten into the track, and I think there is something worth working on further, I employ a bunch of different approaches specific to what I think that track needs. Every track tends to take a different process to complete in the end. Track length is pretty much always random. Skeleton Taxa came about because I had a number of shorter tracks that didn't seem to fit on any other release. After a couple of years, I almost had enough short tracks to make up an album, and that basically prompted me to write a few more to finish it off. Surprisingly, they all seem to fit together well. “Hollow Earth Theory” was a little different regarding approach since, as mentioned, Ben and I discussed a specific concept for the recording. So, there were already boundaries in place. It was challenging but very enjoyable to make. The piece is made up of three twenty-minute improvised takes using guitars, one take of piano, and a lot of editing.
4. I'm fairly familiar with the Kawartha Lakes area where you live, which makes me wonder to what degree your immediate environment influences the character of the work you create.
I know! We're practically neighbors. I've only been living in the area for approximately four years, but its influence has been extremely significant. Since moving out of a highly populated urban setting into a rural environment, in which I am pretty much secluded and don't see a vast amount of people on a daily basis, I've recorded and released a large amount of work in a fairly short period of time. I would venture to say that it has allowed me to develop a sound that I am constantly trying to hone. To get back to the environment, I live in a place surrounded by trees, and there is a swamp close by; it's very, very dark at night, and there are always strange, sinister sounds echoing here and there, you know, nature. It definitely finds its way into the music I make. I don't know, there are always layers of sound; I'm always hearing something different, and I think that's how I approach writing.
5. I know that you also have got other releases in the pipeline besides the one for textura, such as an album for Experimedia. What exactly will we be hearing from you in the months ahead?As you mentioned, I have a release coming out on Experimedia in June called Nonparallel (In Four Movements). It's a conceptual album based entirely on samples from avant-garde classical records that were put out in the ‘60s and ‘70s by Nonesuch; it's also my first vinyl release. Later this year, you'll see a number of releases on Komino Records, the new, Toronto-based imprint with which I'm involved. Among some of the great artists we are currently working with, we'll be releasing a split cassette with Alex Durlak and me. There's also a full-length LP in the works later down the line.