Clark Creates Brutal Sounds Using the Natural Environment on His Latest Album
The veteran Warp producer on using nature to create harsh noise on 'Clark'.
An air of mournful grandeur—the kind that rolls in after an apocalyptic disaster—blankets the seventh, self-titled LP from Clark. Opening with gothic organs, horns braying low and deep, and what sounds like brittle bones rattling against the wind (or maybe a shaken tampon bin), the first track "Ship is Flooding" sets a distinctly cinematic mood, and it only gets ghoulier from there. "More Beghain than Guggenheim" is how Clark's longtime label, Warp, is describing this release. And of course, Clark's raw, pulverising techno plays nicely with cold steel walls. But there are too many glimpses of pristine beauty hiding in these dark halls of densely layered textures for this album to be pure hedonistic material. So maybe "More Headphones Than Heads Down" would work too.
THUMP: Seven albums in, and finally one that is self-titled. Is this release a declaration of an arrival of sorts?
Chris Clark: A declaration of arrival. I hadn't thought about it like that before, but if you like, yes. Album titles, Album schmitles, that's what I say.
Is the "Linn" in "Winter Linn" a reference to audio equipment company? What's the story behind that track?
It is, but it's sort of a joke too, cause the linn snare that is in that track sounds nothing like an actual Linn snare, it's all been completely manipulated. I'm a manipulative person. It's alright to manipulate music though. No guilty conscience. In fact you can full on murder music and people love it.
You've mentioned that you wanted to "let the weather in" so to speak with Clark. What prompted you to evoke natural elements with this album? Was it partly to add an element of unpredictability?
I love the feeling of music emerging out of some sort of dense alien vapour, it's barely audible but distinctly there, I was listening to "Grit In the Pearl" on laptop speakers and there's just this sort of weight of fog behind it that makes it feel part of something else, I can't remember what it is, probably snow or a recording of Guy Fawkes night. I've got hours and hours worth of fireworks recordings on tape as well as storms, rain, thunder, snow – most of it captured on dictaphone.
I've changed alot over the years but it's always been in my work, even on stuff like Frost Investigation. It takes it out of being techno in it's own, laptop sealed, self referential, sterile world.
I love anything that shifts the context of a track but on a subliminal level, it's vital to me, my sound. Then again, I love Sophie, whose music is so unapologetically digital. So I'm not trying to lay down any manifesto, it's just my personal preference. I love so many artists who all use such different methods and disciplines, so it seems a bit rich to kind of state that I think this is what everyone should do. Personally, I just like hearing texture behind my riffs.
How do you see the relationship between those natural elements and the more industrial sounds on the album? Did you want them to be opposing forces or is it more complex then that?
I think it depends on where you set the boundary. I mean I recorded the album in a barn in Newton, which is pretty much rural England, but the English "wild" is not that wild really. It's more like a patchwork of carefully maintained environments of agricultural utility, that are utterly the result of human intervention. Still, there were plenty of trees about, and I love trees.
It also struck me that I was turning very lush, organic sounds into quite melancholic, bruising slabs of mechanical percussion, so yeah, there's some nice contrast there I suppose. For instance, with "Snowbird", all the kicks are things like boots, snow and wood being smacked. I put the recordings through some juicy tools and tweaked them alot and it's just about got the most knock and loudness out of all the tracks on the album.
Even the ones with 909s on them don't sound as big. Which is kind of funny to me.
Your comment in the press notes about music as sculpture reminded me of that old adage that trying to write about music is like dancing about architecture. What is it about music that for you that has some affinity to sculpture? Is that how you visualise your work?
Yeah you're right, it's definitely relevant, that phrase. But I think there are parallels; the sculpture thing more just relates to language, you know when you just take an inventory of words that keep popping up. It's fun to reflect on all those little slips.
It's more just this thing of realising music is more about what you don't include, what you let fall away, and in that sense it's exactly like sculpture, making a shape out of a big block of silence.
Another nice mental tool I use is to imagine pure white noise. Purely conceptually, music can basically be seen in totally subtractive terms. If you just imagine pure white noise, every frequency present, then the process is cutting away out of a block, continually, until some sort of illusion of form exists. Of course, you can literally show this by starting a track with pure white noise and have other elements gradually creep in and out. I've done this in live shows, on a few occasions.
The promotional video for Clark looks like a Magritte painting fed through a strobe light, then styled in the vein of a movie trailer. What was the concept behind this distinctive visual look? Can you elaborate on how the album is meant to be experienced as a "cinematic, immersive whole"?
It's nice to feel that music pushes limits. Generally in life it's nice to feel like you reach your limits, like you're up against the total edge of what human consciousness can experience.
For me being able to feel completely inside music, like it's on you, as a palpable, physical weight, is the closest you can feel that edge to be. That's why I love headphone listening—there's no barrier between you and the work. It turns me on the thought that people might listen to my album going for walks, in all different types of situations. I mean I'm a control freak up until the point of finishing the work, and then I'm just totally excited to let go of it and for it to take on it's own life in the minds of my listeners. The idea that it can shape their inner worlds in some new, unique leap of their own imagination is almost unbearably exciting for me. The point is it all becomes interpretation after that point, the subjective world of my audience gives it context.
"More Berghain than Guggenheim" is a tagline that is already sticking and reverberating in the ways people are talking about this release. Is the separation between dancefloor and museum/institutions an important one for you to make?
Not really. I often start beatless tracks with a pulse or metronome in mind, and then just gradually erode that until it becomes pure drone. I also think soundsystems are fantastic devices to explore beatless, freeform.
You recently opened for Massive Attack. How did you build your set for that show and what do you think you'll remember most about that night?
I kind of did the opposite to what I normally do. I kept the intensity down, I didn't want the set to glare, or be overwhelming in anyway at all. I wanted it to glow in the background, to slowly draw people in. It's weird because I didn't play a beat for about 30 minutes, then I dropped something really slow, and it sounded heavy as fuck because of all the build beforehand.
If you could be a in five-person Max Martin-style 90s boyband, who would be in it?
I'd love to be in a band with Lars Von Trier, Michel Houllebec, Scott Walker, Pusher T and Phil Spector
If you could write the soundtrack for a movie by any director, living or dead, who would it be?
Derek Cianfrance, David Lynch, Gaspar Noe, Nicolas Refn and Sofia Coppla.
You said in a recent interview that you sometimes spy on the guy who came up with the term "IDM." If given the chance and opportunities, who else would you like to covertly keep tabs on?
It's hard enough keeping tabs on my own bullshit really. I'm trying to develop an anti-self-bullshitting device. It's like a go-to psychological toolbox that you can turn to in times of crisis, when you're being a dick but can't do anything about it. It's quite hard though.
With regards to other people. Hmm. I'd like the option to change about a bit. Basically anyone with a massive front of being virtuous/never wrong. Where there's a front there is always a back, etc. Surveillance drones on a massive scale, are surely just round the corner, no?
What has been the most transcendent, bizarre, or memorable raving experience you've ever had?
Probably Tribal Gathering in 1995, the one that Orbital and the Prodigy played at, but it was more youthful musical ignorance that allowed me to enjoy it so much. I was only 15, ignorance can sometimes be bliss. There were some amazing free parties around that time as well. It was mainly gabba though, I think I'd find that quite hard going these days. I loved that slow down gabba thing that Soulwax put out recently.
In the spirit of Halloween, what's the most terrifying sound you can think of?
Noises coming out of Deadmau5 mouth whilst filming a threebie. It's never going to be pleasant is it.
Michelle Lhooq is the Features Editor of THUMP - @MichelleLhooq