October 19, 2016 8:00 am
new landscapes/ residency start date: July 2016/
Somerset House Studios is an ambitious plan to bring artists back into the spaces they have been priced out of; to establish a new collective of artists across a range of disciplines and generate a vibrant creative community right in the heart of London. I came to the attention of Studios Director Marie McPartlin, and late in 2015 we began discussions about how I might be part of this new venture.
I was more than hungry for a change of scene. Born and bred in Manchester, and having never lived any where else, I had become far too over-familiar with my home city; for me it is like walking around a giant living diary. It had become too much an archeology of my self; layers of memories over the years inhabiting every iota of physical and psychological space. I’d had enough.
And after a long series of meetings, sound tests, head scratching, manouvering and applying for and receiving crucial Arts Council funding – I am now here, resident of The Rifle Range, an 18th-Century Naval shooting gallery in a Grade 1-listed building in the heart of London, part of a burgeoning artistic community.
London is a blank sheet; I walk around anonymously and there are constant new beginnings and stimuli vying for my attention, I feel slightly disbelieving to be here, but I also feel I’ve earned my new landscape, with its fresh perspectives, and I’m absorbing everything, leaving my stale shadows behind for a while.
another concrete room/
The space was never meant to be used this way. What was essentially a damp corridor has been transformed into a viable workspace. The Rifle Range is a long, narrow concrete room; there are stone steps and a long concrete ramp which divides the space into an upper and lower surface. I placed a blue lamp at the top; it is like a jetty leading down into an other psychic space. I think of Charon, the sense of an outpost or threshold; every morning I leave one world, and descend the ramp into another.
The ceiling is high and arched; the walls are flaking and damp. It had no electricity. I am in a reverb chamber; quite impractical. There were quite extensive modifications to the space to make it useable. There were false starts; time spent feeling awkward in an awkward room before the studio configured itself and the tetris game stopped.
This is another in a series of difficult, concrete spaces I have inhabited. Eschewing a ‘proper’ studio space in favour of one that is as much art studio or bunker as anything. Sub basement, subterranean, again. The dehumidifier that sucked the canal water out of the air in Manchester here sucks out the Thames from the stone and lets me breathe..and a studio is born.
Multiple projectors whir dancing figures and colours across the walls, animating the stone room with textured images of Cabaret Voltaire, Section 25, Ingmar Bergman films and my own lo-fi short films and animations. Studio as part-installation, part-nightclub.
My super 8, cassette tapes and tubs of art materials spill out of boxes. A box of brightly coloured graffiti paints has just arrived. which I know alarms the custodians of this Grade 1 listed building. Located in the heart of London, just around the corner from Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace is a considerable change, to say the least, from my previous studios located in the genuinely demonic darklands of Strangeways Prison and Miles Platting, Manchester.
beyond the sellotape and lego/
At the core of what I’m interested in is rhythm, catchiness, and atmosphere. It always starts with a beat; the simpler the better..a beat makes solid things melt into thin air, into being.
Having made two albums with ‘sellotape and lego’, that is, a minimal handful of lo-fi equipment, it was time to acquire some new gear, and I could finally invest a bit of £ into this. NS10 monitors instead of £30 Sony hi fi speakers. A mixing console instead of a Tascam 8 track. An Arp Odyssey Mk II from 1976. (The cheap gear is still here and important – more to follow on studio stuff).
I wanted to work with rhythm in a more efficient, immediate way and introduced an analogue sequencer to the heart of the process. Having acquired a Doepfer midi analogue sequencer I can now use this to generate several lines of percussive, atmospheric or melodic textures that are in sync. This is particularly useful being a solo artist; it simply means I can make more sounds, more quickly.
Preparing to tour Hinterland necessitated buying samplers and learning how to use midi as I didn’t want a laptop onstage, but now midi is a new part of the writing process.
I want my process to entail turning dials, pushing faders and pressing buttons with minimal involvement from the laptop. My process is far from laptop-orientated, but I had spent many hours every day finessing parts of Hinterland on humble Garageband, and it re-emphasized how much I dislike the static inaction of staring at a computer screen, which feels dangerously similar to doing admin in an office.
It is a jigsaw of analogue and oldish equipment; exploring how they do – or don’t – speak to each other. Much of my time has been spent reading manuals. The scene is now set to conjure beats from hard surfaces, to coax new songs into life. I grapple with a new space, new equipment, new processes, and the endlessly strange and challenging process of making new music./