Ever since forming solo project 'Building Castles out of Matchsticks' in the Winter of 2000, Canadian experimental musician Anne Sulikowski has been writing music that refuses to sit quietly in the music genre filing cabinet.
Achieving the enviable position of having her music appear on the popular TV show CSI (which is actually rather fitting since her full-time work is in forensic psychiatry) these days Anne divides her time between radio show ‘The Infinite Echo’ where she dishes out an eclectic mix to the morning commuters, as well documenting regular off-grid wanderings set to her tracks on YouTube.
Reflecting Anne's love of adventure, the music of Building Castles out of Matchsticks offers an extraordinary audio prescription for the modern day escapist.
DMD: Please give me the epic story behind Building Castles out of Matchsticks
Anne Sulikowski: I sort of wish I could begin this story by saying that one day I was coming home from school and I found an old chest packed with vintage guitar pedals inside a tree trunk that was actually an entrance to a secret underground city, with the leaves of the trees itself whispering for me to go inside.
Or maybe I could tell the story of a girl who built an arc so big to take at least 300 cool people all the way up north to find the entrance leading deep within the hollow earth, where apparently there is a secret city where everyone is good. Or better yet the story when I was woken from a deep sleep by shadow people, whom, not only could see through walls, but through time, through space, through you.....
The real story is I was barely out of high school, lost as most were that age. I wasn’t very popular at school because I always floated to the stranger side of all things, including music, films, political outlooks, fashion, conversations. I had a wildly vivid imagination and many things would bore me, leaving me spending significant time alone.
I played in a few bands and wanted to do something solo, didn't have any money, or gear or really didn't really know where I could have started, hence the name "building castles out of matchsticks" a friend said that to me once, as I was trying to get all my shit together. He said, “don't worry, with that kind of imagination, you could build castles out of matchsticks!" I thought it was such a cute phrase, but with deep meanings. I decided to start recording under that name.
DMD: What artists/bands initially inspired you to produce the sounds you are now making?
AS: I have always been all over the place musically, even back then. I can vividly remember exactly what I was listening to though on heavy rotation when I first started recorded music. My room was always filled with sounds of Sonic Youth, Oval, Stereolab and American Analog set.
Not to mention all the recordings my friends were doing, involving lots of knobs and dials....I was doing a radio show at the time (and still am) so I was always listening to so much music......its actually really difficult to state what inspired me initially....but I feel it was the actual people around me that inspired me most with their art.
DMD: What 10 albums do you always come back to?
AS: Flying Saucer Attack - New Lands
Casino versus Japan - Whole numbers play the basics
Oval - O
Broadcast and the Focus Group - Investigate witch cults of the radio age
Do Make Say Think - & yet & yet
Gary Numan /Tubeway Army - Replicas
Nudge - cached
Loscil - Submers
Atlas Sound - Parallax
Modern English - After the Snow
DMD: What is the Ontario experimental music scene like?
AS: Since I work full time in forensic psychiatry, most of the time I have left I spend recording, creating and wandering. I used to play live often but music is such a personal experience for me I actually get more out of the music process itself, so I focus more on presenting it as an aftermath for those interested.
I could list hundreds of talented and innovative artists around here, but the same can be said for any area really. Although I am quite extroverted at the same time I am also extremely introverted in the sense that showcasing myself and how I do my music process live is somewhat of a lower priority than showing the results I come up with.
DMD: What instruments did you learn growing up?
AS: Growing up I spent quite some time singing in choirs, so I guess voice would have been the focus? In grade school I did train to use a recorder, which I hated but actually used in some tracks years later.
I played a piano at my grandmothers house the wrong way, and a long time ago my father bought me a Casio keyboard that came with a song book which I grew sick of playing, so I would rearrange the existing songs and play then in strange arrangements, even backwards. The first real instrument I bought was a JP8000 when I was 19 years old. I can read music now, but never write music in any formal way.
DMD: What is your recording set-up?
AS: I experiment often with my recording setup and my music process. Things are never the same from day to day in my studio. I'm always changing things and trying new ideas and new ways to get new sounds or to arrange the sounds preexisting in my head together somehow.
Lately, I have been recording a long series of drones and improvised ambient sounds with guitar and various pedal chains and either using those as foundations to build tracks upon or simply sampling segments from those drone recordings and looping them into a sequenced program, lets say, like fruit loops.
I do not rely on soft synths or samples which I find limiting and hard to work with, making my music process really easy. I'm mostly doing multi-tracking with me playing instruments (guitar and keys) and real time processing with pedals using freeware like audacity. Then I use the sounds I created and build from there. Layering in subtle ways is how I create my recordings. I also use secrets. Lots of secrets. :)
DMD: How did you come to get your music featured in CSI?
AS: Out of the blue they contacted me on myspace. They said they have "hired people just looking online for music to use for the show" and added "your work is perfect". Even though I had never seen the show (been TV free since I was 19!)
I agreed to let them use my music as it was not only financially rewarding but an amazing way to build my resume, for future work for me. They used my music for some creepy parts.....it was a really cool experience to be involved in.
I have also sold works to the Ontario life network for a few episodes of their documentary series "Descending". One was called "ghosts of the pacific" where my music played while divers explored fallen war ships at the bottom of the ocean. Super cool to say the least. I really want to do more music for Films or TV in the future.
DMD: How many guitars, amplifiers & pedals do you own and which are your favourites?
AS: I literally have so much gear it makes people sick. Rather than fuelling peoples "gear envy" (don’t worry I have it too) I will focus on the main gear I’ve been using lately in my current set up. I have so many pedals I could open a little shop, but I won’t, because they are mine and I actually love them.
Pedals frequently used: Earthquaker devices Arpanoid, EHX Pog2, Boss Harmonist, Boss DD20, Red Panda Particle, EHX Cathedral, TC Electronic Trinity 2 Reverb, Boss Terra echo, Boss Multi Overtone, EHX Pitchfork, Boss RV3, EHX Superego, Boss DD3, EHX Memory Boy, Boss Feedback booster, Boss Slicer, EHX Flanger Hoax, Korg Kaoss pad, EHX switchblade. Sometimes I use a looper too. I desperately need a volume pedal.
Guitars: Fender Jazzmaster, Fender American Stratocaster & Epiphone Orange
Synthesizers: Moog MG - 1, two Roland JP8000s, Roland JX3P with controller, casio keyboards.
Anne's pedal hoard
DMD: Apart from music, where else do you find inspiration?
AS: Most of my inspiration comes from thought disorder, ideas of reference, circumstantial thinking, driving around for hours on end looking for for anything abandoned, my daydreams and of course my wildly vivid imagination.
DMD: What about your music would you say has changed since you released Window Pain 12 years ago?
AS: Let me tell you how much can happen in the span of 12 years. I could honestly go on and on and on. and on. I had amazing times, and really really terrible times, times so terrible that it forced me even to leave recording music for a couple of years altogether.
I survived my father dying which changed my life forever, he had cancer and it was honestly surreal to see his body give up against his wishes. I also survived a horrific relationship with someone who ended up being very very dark, and this darkness made him really really sick.
Things have changed for me now and I live the life I always wanted, and I am surrounded by people who are supportive, real and good. What has changed musically is the tone of my music, going from songs of remembering tormented times to newer times like now, times when I can focus on themes within myself and things I imagine rather than painfully expressing awful things that have happened and were happening to me. I am so much stronger now, both as a person and a musician.
I am not questioning things I record like I did when I was recording 12 years ago when it wasn't "the best of times". I dived into my personal life here as my music if a direct reflection of my experience. Now my songs are recorded with ease and I cover themes I want to cover, rather than recording as a mere coping tool. I am so much happier these days. A more tangible answer could be that the last two years I have introduced guitar as one of my main sources of my ambient sounds. Guitar with dozens of pedals. 😊
DMD: What made you feel the need to document these abandoned places? Would you encourage more DIY musicians to do the same since the golden age of MTV has been replaced by YouTube?
AS: I love taking photos, lots of them, and I've been addicted to taking photos for years now. I'm quite bipolar with a camera, it seems as though I'm drawn to either things forgotten, abandoned, decayed or ruined to that which is natural, untouched and places barely walked upon by man. It only made sense to also make videos, as the music I record is quite open to interpretation, making it a perfect medium to add a visual element to it, especially one that moves and tells some sort of story.
Having said that, the video design I arrange is also quite open to interpretation, as I very much enjoy the concept of an abstract story line, allowing the viewer to adapt whatever emotion the imagery to presents to them, paired with the music.
It is actually a wonderful age to live in, having things like YouTube, making the creative process easily shared without making sure it has a commercial quality to it. It allows for a lot of "real art" to occur, without all the corporate obstacles associated with things like MTV etc...
DMD: Please tell us about your radio show
AS: My radio show is called the Infinite Echo and it's a mix of experimental and electric music focusing on the obscure, the ambient, new and other forgotten genres. Mostly it's the sounds of robots all singing to themselves. It airs here in Hamilton, Ontario every Friday morning from 8 to 9 am on 93.3 FM and can be streamed from cfmu.mcmaster.ca
DMD: What do we need to look out for in the future from you and your various projects?
AS: I have quite a bit on my plate right now which I am pleased to say! The past year I have been heavily focused on music with all my spare time. An EP I have completed, called "magical thinking" is being currently released with Paper Plus Sound Records.
I have upcoming EP’s (many on cassette) in the works for release this year and early next year with the following labels: Zero Sum Recordings, Big Pharma Records, Orb Tapes, Grey Matter, and Assembly Field with my "dickhop" ep. Most of these are in the works and have not yet been finalized.
I have also just recently been featured on godhatesgodrecords compilation Anti fOrm 2 and Assembly fields V/A Compilation 4. My track "I have been to the bottom of the ocean" which is to be released on the Drone 8 compilation on Paper plus sound records.
Paracelsian Productions recently released their amazing three disc 30 artists compilation called "Cybernetic Ecosystems" which includes my track "Oscillating forest". I have two vinyl releases scheduled: A Vinyl split with Casino versus Japan (Erik Kowalski) and a split with Horizonte-de-sucesos (Marco Roberti, who is also occasional composer at dead voices on air) in Summer 2017.
I’m also doing more collaborative works with announcements coming soon. I am also planning on continuing video works for my music as well as for video works for musical friends. I am planning also on starting an online site devoted to my obsession of photographing abandoned places called "recreational trespassing" with my good friend Sonja Bernhard.
DMD: Lastly, is there anybody you want to give a shout out to?
AS: Hello everyone and thank you for listening xo
You can listen to the excellent Paracelsian Productions compilation here
(Anne's track appears on part 2)