Back to the UK for a chat with Graham Williams, a veteran of the Leeds Electronic/Experimental music scene and an avid dabbler in Ambient Dub, Dark Ambient, Drone, manipulated Field Recordings, Electroacoustic and Musique concrète with his projects Fencepost, Tungsten Grasshopper, Less than 1 and R0(nought).
Since returning to composition and audio experimentation back in 2014, Graham has been releasing with extreme consistentce to make up for lost time and this year has been no exception:
Abyssopelagic, Phantasmagoria and Malfeasance are 3 collections of previously unreleased Tungsten Grasshopper material that have been resurrected and reconstructed.
Surface Noise Iteration The first Fencepost material in 14 years and Ersatz_2002 a previously unreleased Fencepost live recording.
D Th1rt3en a dark ambient/soundtrack release inspired by and using audio fragments from the classic 60’s horror movie Dementia 13.
Graham contributed 2 tracks to ‘MIDI sans Frontiers’ an online compilation spearheaded by legendary UK Acid House/IDM artist Squarepusher who gave out track stems and encouraged artists to remix them in aid of calling attention to the worrying rise in hate crimes in the UK post Brexit.
Most notably, Graham decided to reach out to the ocean of online DIY artists with the Fencepost Reclamation Project an ever expanding compilation giving artists the opportunity to remix field recordings used for Graham’s Fencepost EP released back in 2002 on Evelyn Records.
His latest release carrion sessions (yellow) features various versions of 'carrion', an on-going work between his R0(nought) and less than 1 monikers. Several versions of 'carrion' have been previously released on the 3 pestis releases, Lost Carcosa and Orphan Source and carrion sessions (yellow) continues his exploration of the darker side of the ambient world.
A 75 minute mix of carrion versions has also been included at the bottom of this interview
DMD: Growing up, what music left a large impression on you?
Graham Williams: I remember music always being part of my life. Vinyl was ever present through my childhood, my parents having a varied record collection, running from Little Richard to Tchaikovsky. One of the earliest records I clearly remember was a 7” of Zulu war chants which I used to play at various speeds. I used to get records for Christmas, a soundtrack to Star Wars with Holst on the B side, Close Encounters of the Third Kind etc.
My father used to love westerns, so I soon had Morricone in my collection too. Orson Welle’s War of the Worlds also made a big impression on me as a child, teaching me the power of broadcast and beginning a lifelong of love of radio drama. Music that made the world a bigger place really started for me with Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation... was released when I had just turned 13; I had never heard the use of loops and samples like it before. The lyrical content also made a big impression, opening my eyes to topics that I had never really been aware of. Hunting down the origins of loops soon brought me to James Brown.
Black Sabbath was also another big moment around this time; I remember finding Vol.4 in a charity shop. Supernaut was the one for me; I was soon hunting for their other albums and discovering other metal bands as I did so. Mike Patton, then in Mr Bungle and Faith No More became, and still remains an inspiration. The quality and variety of his work is staggering to me, his attention to detail instilling a thorough approach to my work methods, which has made me a more proficient producer.
Ministry opened up the industrial side of things when I picked up The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste album, especially with the track Burning Inside. Scorn and Nine Inch Nails soon followed, and it was these three bands that really ignited my interest in making music. My concept of music was turned on its head when Autechre released Basscadet when I was about 18. Not only did this track open up the world of electronic music to me, it reinforced the thought that production was something that I wanted to do.
Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works II and μ-ziq’s Tango & Vectif were also revelatory to me. As my musical tastes widened, I also started to listen to more classical music. Penderecki drew me into the darkness and Wagner’s and Shostakovic’s structural processes also became fascinating. Many of my construction methods owe much to various orchestral works.
DMD: What were you doing musically before going solo?
GW: I have only really ever worked solo. It really began when, at about 16, I started messing around with tapes on an old stacking system. The recording head was on the way out and didn’t used to blank out anything that was already on a tape, simply layering the new recording on top. I collaged any sounds I could, sometimes until the repeated layering prevented any sound from being recognisable.
This led to my first pair of decks, a cheap pair of old belt drives. I used to mess with pitches of records by changing the belts for elastic bands, resting things on the belts, using paper clips etc. After a few years of endless mix tapes, I became frustrated with only being able to play and adapt other people’s music and enrolled on the Leeds College of Music’s Music Technology Production course.
I soon became involved in the Leeds electronic music scene and this lead to involvement with Vector, a loose organisation who used to put on monthly nights of electronica, and host a radio show. It was at about this time that I bought my 303 for £30 and a bag of weed. An SP 202 soon followed and between Vector and my music course, I began to learn how to construct the kinds of sound that I heard in my head.
DMD: When did you start to gravitate towards more experimental music?
GW: Once I had been exposed to Autechre etc. I began to actively seek out more and more experimental music, and this reinforced my desire to construct sound. Once I had started producing, I soon found it overly restrictive to be worrying about beats, bars and other traditional structures and soon dispensed with them.
My first couple of releases were on Fencing Flatworm, a label run by Rob, who now runs radiofreemidwich.wordpress.com. Rob had an incredibly varied roster on the label and this encouraged me to continue with my methods and approach to production. The OTO series was a tape only offshoot, limited to 50 copies of 50 releases. My contributions to the series were T04, T11, T26, T33 and T37. This was my first tentative steps into experimenting in processing films. the process was to build several filters audiomulch and then play audio from the films through them, changing the parameters in real time and recording as I did so; these recordings were then edited for the releases.
Following a move to London, I had several projects released as part of Evelyn Records’ subscription series. Evelyn Records was run by Chris, who now runs tromerecords.com. The series was again a very diverse selection of works, including a singing woodstove, which is the release that got me into field recording manipulation.
By this time, my work was becoming increasingly abrasive as my mental health began to deteriorate. Soon after the fencepost EP was released, my mental health declined further and I began to feel that all of my works were worthless. Within about 18 months I had largely ceased to produce altogether; this cessation continued until about 2 years ago when I began my recovery.
DMD: What instruments do you play?
GW: Unfortunately, I do not play any instruments, and can’t even read music very well. I played the xylophone when I was at school, but was never very good.
DMD: Please tell us about the inspirations and the origins of your music projects: Tungsten Grasshopper, less than 1, Fencepost and R0(nought)
GW: I have always had a habit of using an artist name for only one or two projects and using differing names for different types of work. The name Tungsten Grasshopper came from a casual comment one of my friends made whilst I was working on a project for my music course. I played a half finished piece to him and he said it sounded like a mechanical cricket.
After a bit of refinement, the name stuck. The project became the basis of Pyrrhic Victories, my first release on fencing flatworm. This album was really me finding my feet with the 303, the intricacies of composition etc. The second Grasshopper album was written whilst I was trying to come to terms with the sudden death of my mother and was a process of catharsis.
Less than 1 came about after my extended hiatus from music. I was suffering badly at the time with anxiety and felt less than a complete person; that some part of me had left. My wife encouraged me to get back into music production as it had been so helpful before. I was soon channelling a lot of my emotion into the music, which again helped me through a dark time.
I use this name for both my film reconstruction works, major projects and also use the amalgamation less than Tungsten for my rebuilding of unfinished Tungsten Grasshopper material. Of all my guises, less than 1 is the most personal. Fencepost was initially intended as a one-off project using nothing but field recordings, I am hesitant to use terms such as ‘musique concrete’. A fencepost was about the most prosaic concrete item I could think of and became the working title for the project.
Evelyn records released the Fencepost EP and a full length was also recorded. Of all my old work, it is the fencepost works that I am most happy with. The R0(nought) moniker came about due to my interest in viral and bacterial diseases. Initially, I intended to only release pestis under the R0 name, but as it turns out a few more R0 projects are in the pipeline. Whilst stylistically similar to less than 1, R0 is constructed along more classic compositional lines, creating a denser sound.
DMD: Apart from music what else inspires you?
GW: I love the natural world. Just about every aspect of it has held me in awe for as long as i can remember. Sonically, I draw inspiration from animals, odd phenomena such as singing sands, baffling underwater recordings, wind etc. I am rarely without my digital recorder and use the resultant recordings in most of my work, although much of may it not be recognisable.
Literature also plays a huge part in my inspirations. I have an especial love for weird fiction, especially Lovecraft’s works. I try to capture the otherworldly feeling of dread in an indifferent universe that his writing evokes in my work.
Films have also been a source of constant inspiration to me, I have an especial love of B-movies, old Godzilla films etc. I have reworked some of my favourite films in less than 1 projects and find the processing of the score, incidental music and dialogue a real pleasure. More of these projects are scheduled for the future.
DMD: What is your recording set-up?
GW: My set up has not changed very much over the years, as when I returned to producing I essentially just dusted off my old rig.
Individual hardware elements include a Roland MC 303, a Roland SP202 sampler, a Kaoss Pad, 2 PDX2300 Vestax decks, an Ion TTUSB10 digital deck, a Citronic SMFX 200 mixer, a Radioshack SSM mixer, a digital recorder, minidisk and various mics.
The main software I use is Soundforge and Acid Music Studio. My wife Sara is also an integral part of my set up, providing advice, track titles and putting up with having to repeatedly listen to half-finished tracks.
DMD: What is your day job?
GW: I work part time in local government, mainly dealing with environmental services issues. The rest of my time is split between running an allotment and music production, the reclamation project etc.
DMD: How did the Fencepost Reclamation Project compilation come about?
GW: The reclamation project came about due to fortunate happenstance. In the same week I discovered a CDr of the original fencepost stems and got back in contact with Chris who used to run Evelyn Records. Chris and I had unfortunately lost contact when I stopped producing music. The project was born when I asked Chris if it would be ok to rerelease the EP with remixes submitted by other artists. Chris was very supportive and was happy for the rerelease.
Rob, of radio midwich, was also very supportive of the idea and suggested some artists that I could contact to see if they would be interested. Following Rob’s advice, I sent out some email invites and was overwhelmed by the interest shown by so many other artists. Remixes soon began arriving and the project initially launched in April with about a dozen tracks. The project has continued in this vein and currently includes over 120 tracks from numerous artists from all around the world.
I am astounded by the enthusiastic support that the project has received and have to thank all of the artists who have been involved. Many of these have also expressed an interest in any future projects, which is an exciting prospect for me.
DMD: What would be your 15 desert island disks?
GW: Ae – Elseq 1-5
Fantomas – Wunderkammer
Ennio Morricone – Once Upon a Time in the West
Mick Harris & James Plotkin – Collapse
Mercury Theatre – War of the Worlds broadcast 1936
James Brown – Star time
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
Rollins Band – End of Silence
Ministry – The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste
Nine Inch Nails – The Downwards Spiral
Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation...
Wagner – Overtures
Penderecki – Orchestral Works
Wasteland – Amen Fire
David Attenborough – Life Stories
DMD: Do you have any live shows planned for your projects?
GW: I don’t have any plans for any live shows. I do miss the live aspect, but there is not much of a music scene around where I live. I’m not overly proactive when it comes to arranging gigs etc; but if I was invited to play at an event I would jump at the chance. Playing live would also give me an excuse to raid films for apt dialogue. I tend to cut back on the use of vocal samples for studio production, but like to have a more narrative approach to playing live.
DMD: What does the rest of 2016 hold for you and your music?
GW: The next couple of months should be quite busy for me. As a result of the reclamation project, I’m going to be embarking on a series of splits with contributors. I’m hoping to have a couple of splits released before next year. The carrion sessions (an ongoing collaboration’ of R0 and less than1) will also see its first release. I am also currently working on a new R0 project, but am not sure this will be finished before 2017 is upon us.
DMD: What bands/artists releases this year really blew you away?
GW: The two releases that really stick in my mind from this year are Autechre’s Elseq 1-5 and the self titled Nevermen release. I’m still astounded by the complexity of these two diverse releases, which have swallowed most of my spare ‘listening’ time this year.
DMD: Tell us about your latest release the Carrion Sessions (yellow) and the soundcloud mixtape…Also: Why do the numbers on the Carrion tracklist go 2-4-7-8-9-10?
GW: The Carrion session came about as a precursor to the reclamation project. All of the different version of carrion use the same set of samples, and is really an ongoing series of reinterpretations, trying to see how many different ways a set number of samples can be reconstructed and reinterpreted. I return to the sessions on an ad hoc basis, generally between larger projects. The name is derived from the use of a Carrion crow sample.
The numbering on Carrion Sessions (Yellow) runs in the sequential order that the tracks were produced in. Missing numbers indicate where a particular version has been used as part of a larger project i.e. Carrion IV as part of pestis. I decided to do a mixtape for inclusion with this interview as a contemporary version of when you used to get a mix tape or CD with a magazine i.e. Fact magazine mixes.
It also gave me the opportunity to segue various different versions of Carrion into one larger entity using different key and pitches to the original recordings. Essentially, the mixtape is a ‘live’ rendering of Carrion, performed to an audience of 3 of my cats. I also thought it would be a little bonus for anyone reading this interview, and so I decided that I would publish it via Soundcloud as a private track to add an air of exclusivity.
DMD: Anyone you want to give a shout out to?
GW: Rob from Radiofreemidwich, for his constant encouragement, advice and support over the years. Rob’s wife Anne and their son Thomas, for being Rob’s wife and son.
Chris from Trome for his support and encouragement over the years, and for his wholehearted support of the reclamation project.
All of the reclamation project participants, I’m proud to be associated with so many talented and supportive artists. Ed, for being cool and providing me with this opportunity to be interviewed.
Most of all I would like to thank my beautiful wife, Sara, without whose love, understanding, support and constant encouragement I would be lost.
Desert...Mountain...Dust... is proud to premiere Carrion Suite 2 which you can listen to here
radio free midwich blog
Photography credit: GAS Works
Photography credit: GAS Works