Olivia Speaks: Olivia Louvel On [Hepworth Resounds]

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[Hepworth Resounds] is a two-part exploration of the work of sculptor Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903 – 1975) by voice artist Olivia Louvel. The first part, The Sculptor Speaks was broadcast by Resonance FM in January 2020 and is followed by SculptOr, released by Louvel’s Cat Werk Imprint label today.

Olivia spoke to Documentary Evidence about the origins of the project and what it as that resonated so much about Hepworth’s work – and voice.

I have always been fascinated by the interplay of voice and sculpture.

I recently researched the subject in The Sculpted Voice: An Exploration Of Voice In Sound Art. The first piece I made on Barbara Hepworth was ‘Studio’, which is now featured on the album SculptOr. For that I recorded sounds in the art and metal workshops at the University of Brighton.

I was familiar with her sculptures – she is an icon – but it’s only when I began to read her writings that things took a new turn, and I could see how I could compose with her words.

I work at the intersection of creation and documentation, often taking existing texts as a point of departure. Delving into her creative process, I could question my own creative process and relationship to sculpting sounds. I visited her Sculpture Garden in St Ives back in 2017 and then I went to the Wakefield museum too. Recently, I attended her exhibition at Musée Rodin, in Paris.

Voice is a material I enjoy manipulating. My practice is built upon a long-standing exploration of the voice, whether sung or spoken, and its manipulation through digital technology as a compositional method.

Largely I use digital tools which employ virtual methods of sculpting, I worked with Audiosculpt (Ircam) and GRM Tools (GRM-INA).

The starting point for [Hepworth Resounds] was her extensive body of writings, which paved the way for SculptOr, a suite of nine pieces available as digipak CD. So the project started with her words but then en route I began to play with a snippet of her voice for ‘Use Your Own Body’, the first track on the album, in which she says that “every sculpture must be touched”. I thought how wonderful it would be to work more with her voice, to touch her voice. And so the project evolved.

‘Must Carve A Stone’ by Olivia Louvel (dir. Paul Kendall)

During my research at the British Library, I discovered the existence of a 1961 tape called The Sculptor Speaks and I was able to obtain the digitised file thanks to Sophie Bowness, trustee of the Hepworth Estate.

The Sculptor Speaks is a 1961 recording of Barbara Hepworth’s voice, illuminating her creative process. Recorded by Hepworth herself in her studio in St Ives, the tape’s initial purpose was for a recorded talk to accompany slides for the British Council. I am creating for it a new sound environment, effectively re-sounding the tape; re-sounding as in bringing a new resonance, a new context to the object, an object which had been neglected, just waiting for a new status. So we could say that SculptOr is based on words, and The Sculptor Speaks is based on the direct carving of her voice. Both objects together form [Hepworth Resounds].

The Sculptor Speaks, as a first iteration, was premiered on Resonance FM on 10th of January 2020, celebrating her date of birth. From this stereo version, I plan to bring her voice in the space – in the context of a multi-speaker diffusion – so the audience can experience the physicality of her voice, discover this rich oral material and acquire a new sensorial perspective on her legacy.

Interview: Mat Smith

SculptOr by Olivia Louvel is released February 7 2020 by Cat Werk Imprint. Buy Sculptor here.

(c) 2020 Olivia Louvel for Documentary Evidence

hackedepicciotto – The Current

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I have three experiences of Blackpool, the town in which the ever-wandering duo of Danielle de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke recorded The Current.

The first is, I am told, a brief trip there as a child in the way home from Scotland, of which I remember absolutely nothing. My mother advises me that I was eighteen months old. The only memento I have of this is a small black and white photo-booth strip.

Then, almost thirty years later I watched an episode of a show called The Hotel Inspector, one of several programmes scheduled in the wake of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares in which some egotistical know-it-all pokes around in an establishment, shows just how utterly disgusting it is, and then comprises a strategy for how they will radically improve it. The thing that stuck with me about this show was not a very dubious establishment managed by a very colourful character, but the statistic that the average room rate for one of the 1800 hotels in Blackpool was £20 – and lest we forget that an average suggests there were many rooms available for substantially less. Hotel room rates act as a barometer for the economic prospects of a location, and on that measure alone, Blackpool was woeful. I mean, I’ve paid more than that for an hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska and that place didn’t have a ballroom, tower or a beach to improve its appeal.

Finally, maybe around the same time as that, I hauled myself up to Blackpool at some ungodly hour in the morning to support a colleague who was presenting at one of the significantly more expensive hotels in the town. As he came off the stage and legged it to the exit, he whipped off his microphone and whispered to me, ‘Get me the fuck out of here – this town makes me want to kill myself.’

But some of this is precisely why de Picciotto and Hacke chose to move to Blackpool for The Current. It is a town, as they put it, left behind by gentrification, a forgotten relic of Victorian-era tourism, a place dominated by sickly, E-number-heavy boiled sweets, faded seaside grandeur and an unlikely landmark – the Tower – forever destined to be unfairly seen as a poor architectural cousin to M. Eiffel’s more famous example, despite being arguably almost as impressive.

All of this, plus the presence of the Irish Sea the couple could see from their window, gives tracks like ‘Petty Silver’ – replete with its creepy melodic tones reminiscent of ‘The Carny’ by The Bad Seeds, grubby, fuzzy electronic rhythm and sub-bass slowed down to a unnerving prowl – an unexpected, if turbulent and utterly skewed, symphonic edge. It would be glib to say that such a track carries a sense of mystery as Danielle de Picciotto intones an especially bleak poetry, but there is nevertheless a sinister, Old Testament good vs evil thing going on here.

Elsewhere, opening track ‘Defiance’ is nudged onward by a gloomy bluesy guitar, bass and violin formation that might as well have blown in from the sand of a sun-bleached Nevadan desert rather than the brown sand of Blackpool. Here we find overheard voices, strangely celebratory and yet weirdly affecting when taken outside of their context, bells, snarling electronics and a vocal from de Picciotto that emphasises we are all made equal despite Blackpool’s economic fortunes suggesting that this is anything but the case.

It is an effect that plays out across The Current, in a fashion not wholly dissimilar to the sound of the Detroit-centred Crime & The City Solution album American Twilight (2013) that both contributed to. On the standout ‘Onwards’, that manifests itself as a violin section that is enough to cause claustrophobia and panic, the beautiful harmonies between Hacke and de Picciotto never quite offsetting the churning urgency of the strings, sounding not unlike the end of the world as we know it. The album’s title track begins with a soundfield of unplaceable, hissing, droning sounds evoking comparisons with Hacke’s role in Einstürzende Neubauten, though even that band never quite managed to sound this bleak; ‘The Banishing’ carries a strained, muted edge courtesy of a rich, undulating, thunderous rhythm, chanted vocals and vaguely optimistic strings; ‘Third From The Sun’ begins with rich otherworldly sounds intended to remind us that our very existence owes itself to accidents and astral coincidence, before descending into a ominous wall of beautiful, ugly sound laced with psychedelic motifs.

This is not an album for the faint-hearted. By the time you reach the mournful ‘Upon Departure’, with its proggy, thick Violinksi tonalities, insistent strings and impenetrably savage drums, or the damning social commentary of ‘The Black Pool’, you might be forgiven for wanting to say, like my former colleague, ‘Get me the fuck out of here.’ Break through the gloom and a strangely human, hopeful, elegiac dimension appears. It is the sound of an unexpected optimism and a spirit of unity and of being in this together in spite of the state we’re in.

That de Picciotto and Hacke were able to freely up sticks and pitch up in Blackpool, with an album released on the very day where the UK is expected to sever its ties from Europe, and where such freedom of movement will be once again restricted, is perhaps the most overtly political statement of all those enshrined in The Current.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

SavFrost – Cuckoo Head Cool Dog

Cuckoo Head Cool Dog by SavFrost is a unique collaboration between long-standing friends Barbara Frost and Savage Pencil (Edwin Pouncey), issued by The Tapeworm’s Bookworm offshoot in two editions – ‘Germolene Pink’ and ‘Papal Purple’ – and described by The Tapeworm’s Philip Marshall as nothing less than a “bodice-ripping page-turner”.

Neither Frost or Pouncey will be unfamiliar to Mute collectors, Frost through her association with partner Frank Tovey / Fad Gadget as songwriter, singer, photographer, tour manager and occasional book-keeper, and SavX through his distinctive sleeve illustrations for Sonic Youth, Big Black and many other Blast First releases.

The volume consists of twenty visceral and engaging short pieces by Frost, each one written in a single draft in direct response to an image supplied in an email from Savage Pencil the night before. The image would remain unopened until Frost was ready to start writing the following day, beginning the process of developing either a short story, poem, collection of haikus or some other written reaction to Pouncey’s distinctive (and generally unfathomable, often disturbing) illustrations by accumulating ‘word banks’, clusters of words that occurred to her as she looked at what had been supplied. Those word banks, and Pouncey’s drawings, are all included in the book, and it’s illuminating to see precisely Frost’s responses as they were developing, the word banks being necessarily individualistic, spontaneous gestures that often appear only tangentially linked to the drawing and the written piece that would then be formed.

The results are predictably unpredictable, and frequently dark. One piece (Reap What You Sow) appears to document the quotidian ministrations of a garden-obsessed pensioner, only to unfold into something much more sinister; New Neighbour begins by detailing the interactions between a resident of a maisonette and her new upstairs neighbour, all of which begin with somewhat overbearing pleasantries before opening out into a jaw-dropping tale of extreme and nauseating criminality.

Other stories concern themselves with sleepless nights, fumbled romance and macabre goings on in dolls houses orchestrated by a disturbed young girl, and the inner turmoil of the Beast from Jean Cocteau’s La Belle Et La Bête (definitely Cocteau; not Disney). The poetic gestures throughout the book are similarly oblique, ranging from naturalistic moments to outpourings of adoration to more harrowing concerns, each one deployed with an unvarnished economy of language and a raw emotional directness.

Cuckoo Head Cool Dog by SavFrost was issued by The Bookworm on September 27 2019 in a limited edition of 250 copies (125 pink, 125 purple). Copies can be purchased from The Tapeworm’s Bandcamp page.

Thanks to Barbara, Philip, Fortitude, Sagar and Café Below.

Related:

Interview with Philip Marshall from The Tapeworm about the label’s formation, ethos and ongoing exploration of the cassette format over at my other blog, Further.

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

MixBus With Kevin Paul

On January 10 2020, producer Kevin Paul begins a series of podcast interviews with fellow studio stalwarts including fellow former Konk resident Dave Eringa and other names familiar to Mute collectors such as Dave Bascombe, Flood, Danny Briottet, Pascal Gabriel and Gareth Jones.

“It came out of listening to podcasts about the recording studio and music production,” explains Kevin. “I could hardly find anyone talking about people from the UK. I thought, ‘I know a few people, so I’ll call them and ask if they want to speak to me and if I get 5/6 then I’ll start a series.’ Incredibly, everyone said ‘Yes’ and I thought ‘Oh my god, I’d better get going!”

Key to the format of the podcast is a relaxed, accessible tone distinct from similar podcasts which go heavy on technical detail. “It’s just me and my guest talking informally about their career and their approach to music,” continues Kevin. “It’s designed to let the guest just talk openly about whatever they want, really. There’s plenty of people who do super technical podcasts already and they do that very well. I’m hoping anyone interested in how records are made can enjoy my podcasts.”

Kevin is himself no stranger to Mute, having worked on countless records for the label between 1992 and 2012. His association with the label began with work on the Pro-gross Three remix of Nitzer Ebb’s ‘Ascend’ and Phil Kelsey’s expansive remix of ‘Take A Chance On Me’ from Erasure’s chart-topping ABBA-Esque EP. “I ended up at Mute through my time at Konk studios,” he recalls. “‘Ascend’ was actually the first record I’m credited on so carries a special place in my career. Mute was such a creative place to be that there are too many highlights to list: I worked with pretty much every artist on Mute and its subsidiaries at one point, including The KLF, Appliance, and Paul Smith’s Blast First. I mixed Goldfrapp’s first album, Lovely Head. I met and worked with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and David Bowie, who spent time at Worldwide Studios recording some of his Hours… album, and I worked on the 5.1 remixes of the Depeche Mode back catalogue. That’s just a few of the things I’m really proud of.”

Nitzer Ebb – Ascend (cdmute145, 1992) featuring Kevin Paul’s first credit (track 2).

Kevin’s series arrives at a time where the ease with which artists can make music without relying on expensive studio time potentially puts the traditional roles of producer, mixer and engineer under threat. Nevertheless, he still sees the value that a good quality studio team can provide. “Studio people are there to help artists make the best music they can make, in whatever form that takes,” he says. “In order to achieve that, we must do whatever that entails.”

The KP MixBus podcasts will be available from January 10 2020 on your favourite podcast app on iOS and Android, and from www.kpmixbus.com. The first in the series finds Kevin chatting with Catherine Marks (St. Vincent, Local Natives, Wolf Alice, White Lies, PJ Harvey, Frank Turner and many others).

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

Richie Hawtin – Techno Trance

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Once a week, a record stall would pitch up in Square 3 of the University of Essex in Colchester, just outside the entrance to the main campus bar. For my first year of studies, that stall would prove to become an expensive thing to pass on my way to dull accounting classes – as I have told many people over the years, I initially became a vegetarian just to save money so that I could continue to buy records with the same fervency as I had before I left for university; ethics came much later. Between that stall, Time Records (a bus ride away in the town centre) and Mute Bank, I’m surprised I ever had any money left to buy food, let alone the bottles of Smirnoff Moscow Mule that I developed a taste for early on at university.

I no longer have a lot of the things that I bought from that stall, but this cassette is one of the purchases I kept. A DJ mix by Richie Hawtin, this arrived in my tape deck at a time where dance music – and techno in particular – seemed to be taking over my life. I’d buy 12-inch singles just for the remixes and recorded Pete Tong’s Essential Mix each week irrespective of which DJ was supplying the mix. Colchester had one nightclub, The Hippodrome, where you’d take your life into your own hands if you ever visited thanks to over-eager bouncers and the toxic combination of students and local military personnel, and so my flatmates rarely visited there. The Arts Centre would occasionally book dance acts, and I recall going to see Empirion, J Saul Kane and Loop Guru there. The university’s own music venue struggled to attract many acts of any particular note while I was there, in spite of some of the mature students talking with misty eyes about the time that Nirvana played there, and the weekend club nights were generally best avoided; Mr C did a DJ set there once, and I recall shaking his hands while he was handing out flyers for The End, but that was the only ‘name’ DJ to drag themselves out to the furthest reaches of Essex.

This tape contains scant information, and was presumably recorded direct from the mixer. It captures a Richie Hawtin set prior to his efforts to push the tradition DJ set envelope by using loops, effects, drum machines and other kit to create new dimensions in techno, dating this to sometime in the mid-90s given I’d have bought it in either late 1995 or some time in 1996. Aside from the obligatory dropping of his own ever-versatile ‘Spastik’ as Plastikman, his remix of Slam’s ‘Positive Education’ and a snatch of ‘Rollin’ & Scratchin’’ by Daft Punk, I’ve spent so long away from the company of techno that I can’t readily identify much else. Tracks featuring 303s abound, very possibly including many of the many Hawtin remixes I religiously collected, but I certainly wouldn’t want to attempt to compile a setlist. Its pace is relentless, rarely dropping the beat at all across the 90 minute set – that duration simply being the length of the cassette, and presumably just a segment of Hawtin’s full mix. If indeed it’s even Richie Hawtin – the cassette body credits this to Richie Hortin.

“90 minutes of the best in techno trance available today.”
– Hyperactive presents – Live in the mix – Richie Hortin

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Hawtin’s mixes have evolved massively since the likes of this. Compared to his Close Combined album from earlier this year, the approach to mixing here is positively naïve. “In Detroit, electronic music was futuristic music.” intones Hawtin’s robotic, processed voice on the opening track on Close Combined. “It was alien music. As much as the music was like that, the mentality of the DJs was also like that in Detroit. If you were playing futuristic music, you had to perform futuristically, and find new ways of performing, new technologies, old technologies, wrong technologies.” When this set was recorded, Hawtin had yet to figure out how he could use those technologies to enhance his performance. Instead, his approach is on deploying a dizzying number of tracks where he moves on after the main hook – generally an acid pattern – has played out.

The blueprint for what has become his CLOSE technique – the extreme extension of the DE9 approach documented on NovaMute’s DE9 | Closer To The Edit release from 2001 – is nevertheless audible here in the form of a relentless pursuit of unfaltering energy, with short builds and none of those trashy euphoric peaks that became formulaic in dance music; a focus on the rudiments of body-moving rhythms and the alien chemical structure of Roland’s fabled bassline generator.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

It’s A Wonderful Serious Of Snakes

Every Christmas I sit down to watch It’s A Wonderful Life, normally accompanied by two sleeping cats and usually while my family is off doing something else. I’ve tried to encourage them to watch it with me, but Freya just insists that it’s “boring” and Seren says she’ll happily watch it but makes that teenage face that basically says “I’d rather be doing anything”.

For the first hour or so I find myself offering an alternative soundtrack to Dimitri Tiomkin’s score with the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds track ‘Wonderful Life’ that opens 2002’s Nocturama. You can probably see why. As far as I can tell, Cave’s song takes no inspiration whatsoever from Frank Capra’s classic movie, instead being a rumination on some sort of love affair taking place in secret and its uncertain chorus suggesting that life isn’t necessarily wonderful unless you’ve found a way to locate its meaning. But that doesn’t stop me humming that song to myself on repeat while the film’s George Bailey, like Job in the Old Testament, seems to be continually deviated away from his intended path through life while his brother Harry gets all the breaks.

This year, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, I found myself paying more attention to the script than I have in previous years. In the scene where Harry arrived back in Bedford Falls from college, bringing with him his wife Ruth, I caught a snatch of dialogue that seemed vaguely familiar.

RUTH: Harry’s a genius at research. My father fell in love with him.

– It’s A Wonderful Life by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra & Jo Swerling, 1946

It took me a while to figure out where I’d heard the last two lines before. After a bit of maddening rewinding, replaying and memory bank scouring, I finally twigged the similarity to a pairing from Wire’s ‘A Serious Of Snakes’, whose seemingly nonsensical lyrics I once asked Colin Newman about only to be told with a shrug, “I dunno – ask Graham Lewis.”

He’s a genius in research / I simply fell in love.

– A Serious Of Snakes by Wire from Snakedrill (1986). Lyrics by Graham Lewis.

Surely this was no coincidence?

Taking Colin’s advice from over twenty years ago, I asked Graham if the key to unlocking the secrets held in that song’s lyrics required you to scour through black and white films, and at first that seemed to be the case – he told me that the line about losing a ship at the very end of the song was derived from the Jack Hawkins film The Cruel Sea (1953) – but elsewhere in the song you hear a raft of insults offered by barman Tony ‘Skibb O’D’Oak’ from Lewis’ local boozer, The Royal Oak, in Vauxhall with the lines “you tulip, you pea-brained earwig, you punk, you silver tongued snake”. “It’s a classic Gysin-esque cut-up collage,” offered Lewis, matter-of-factly.

Just as it seemed the song’s meaning – if there indeed was one – was going to elude me further, Graham unexpectedly brought it back round to the time of year with which It’s A Wonderful Life is synonymous. “‘A Serious Of Snakes’ was my stab at a Christmas lyric,” he volunteers, suddenly making the lines “baby returns, baby kills Mary and Joseph” make a whole lot more sense.

Look closely and you can see references to Joseph’s carpentry, the Christmas Eve tradition of midnight mass, various other familiar (though obfuscated) subjects from the New Testament, along with other tangential topics like the creation of Israel. The Snakedrill EP was released in November 1986, right on cue for the clamour to grab the coveted number one chart slot, only to be thwarted that year by a re-release of Jackie Wikson’s ‘Reet Petite’ – which isn’t even remotely festive.

And so there you have it – ‘A Serious Of Snakes’, the unlikeliest of Christmas songs, buried deep within an artsy, obliquely crafted series of seemingly inconsequential non sequiturs and riddle-like lyrics. It really is a wonderful life.

The full lyrics from ‘A Serious Of Snakes’ are available at pinkflag.com

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

Moby – Move

‘Move’ was Moby‘s first single for Mute, and I still think that it could be argued as the best dance track – aside from ‘Go’, of course. 1993 was a time when Richard Hall’s focus was entirely on housey, uplifting dance music, without any of the guitars and hip|hop beats that pervaded his subsequent work on albums like Play.

‘Move (You Make Me Feel So Good)’ was designated as the single mix, and is everything you’d want from a Moby dance track – solid beats (with a bit of a hardcore break feel), atmospheric / euphoric strings, melodic piano and soulful vocals. ‘All That I Need Is To Be Loved’ was re-recorded as a thrash metal dirge for ‘Hymn’ and his debut Mute album Everything Is Wrong, but on the 12″ we get the seminal original, while the CD includes an edited mix. It’s an aggressive but trancey acid cut, with a central synth hook and heavy 4/4 beats, an impassioned Moby largely shouting the lyrics.

‘Unloved Symphony’ is proper ‘ardcore – frantic beats, headcleaner noises etc, but Moby tempers this aggression with piano motifs and some queasily moving string sounds. ‘The Rain Falls And The Sky Shudders’ points to his soundtrack work – beautiful piano heard in the middle distance, while the sound of a torrential downpour provides the foreground. Various noises filter through, and overall this is a seminal treat tucked away on this single. Over on the 12″, ‘Morning Dove’ is a repetitive percussive tribal house cut with a riff like a Moroccan snake charmer, and apparently named after a particularly potent ecstacy tablet.

The second 12″ includes four remixes – three by Moby himself including a full-length version of the single mix and one by Mark ‘MK’ Kinchin. MK’s mix is pure ’90s house, his layering of the scant vocals and new sax riffs over a steady house beat echoing his work with Nightcrawlers. Moby’s two mixes on the B-side are aggressive and fast (Sub) and deep and relaxed (Xtra), the lattering featuring what sounds like a double bass. A further mix by Moby, his Disco Threat mix, is exclusively available on the cassette and two-track CD single.

First published 2006; edited 2019.

Catref: mute158
Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2006 – 19 Documentary Evidence

Can – Silent Night

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Can released this twee synthpop version of ‘Silent Night’ as a single in the UK, France and Germany in December 1976.

Whenever Can turned their hand to more ostensibly pop structures, they proved themselves highly capable of pulling it off, and ‘Silent Night’ carries those sensibilities with it. Michael Karoli‘s droning guitar, interlaced with Irmin Schmidt‘s dense synth chords and bells, provides the carol’s instantly recognisable melody, even if it’s played at half the speed of the jaunty rhythm with its typically clever drumming from Jaki Liebezeit (possibly with an early drum machine alongside him) and funky bassline from Holger Czukay. Okay so perhaps it’s a little bit novelty at times, but in its own way it’s pretty cute. It’s also the closest I think Can ever got to the early, pre-Autobahn Kraftwerk sound.

Johnny Mathis secured the UK number one slot in 1976, the year I was born, with ‘When A Star Is Born’ as my parents often remind me; in an alternative universe, Can would take this song to the top of the charts and bring forward the development of synthpop by a couple of years.

The original 7″ single was backed with ‘Cascade Waltz’ from the Flow Motion album. The track ‘Silent Night’ would later appear on the B-side of a single of ‘Spoon’ in 1980, as well as on a couple of Can compilations. Mute issued the track as a free festive download a few years ago.

Originally posted 2012; edited and re-posted 2019 (cos it’s Christmas, innit).

Catref: vs166
Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2012 – 2019 Documentary Evidence

Komputer: Live At TEC006, 30.11.2019

David Baker. Photo (c) 2019 Andy Sturmey / Bright Lights Pix

Simon Leonard. Photo (c) 2019 Andy Sturmey / Bright Lights Pix

In the history of Mute Records, David Baker and Simon Leonard are legends. From their early releases as alternative synthpop unit I Start Counting, through the weird sampleadelic techno hinterlands of Fortran 5 and onward through the retrofuturist electronics of Komputer, Baker and Leonard have been a consistent presence on the label’s roster since 1984.

The duo performed a rare live date on Saturday 30 November at Electrowerkz in London as part of TEC006, curated by our friends at The Electricity Club and Cold War Night Life. Their set covered some choice, classic moments from across their entire back catalogue.

Setlist

Komputer Intro
Looking Down On London
Letters To A Friend
Heart On The Line
Time To Dream
Lose Him
Million Headed Monster
We Are Komputer
Still Smiling
Valentina
Bill Gates

Photos and setlist courtesy of Andy Sturmey / Bright Lights Pix

Related:

AK-47 – Stop! Dance! (review)

Komputer – 2011 Interview

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

Connect Until Connected: An Interview With Komputer (2011)

Komputer – Simon Leonard & David Baker. Credit: Angela Hayward

In the history of Mute Records, David Baker and Simon Leonard are legends. From their early releases as alternative synthpop unit I Start Counting, through the weird sampleadelic techno hinterlands of Fortran 5 and onward through the retrofuturist electronics of Komputer, Baker and Leonard have been a consistent presence on the label’s roster since 1984.

The duo will perform a rare live date on Saturday 30 November at Electrowerkz in London as part of TEC006, curated by our friends at The Electricity Club and Cold War Night Life. Ahead of their return to the stage, we are reposting a 2011 Documentary Evidence interview with David Baker that’s been offline for years, and which was originally published to coincide with the release of their compilation album, Konnecting.

Simon Leonard and David Baker have been associated with Daniel Miller and Mute Records since 1984, releasing their first two albums – My Translucent Hands and Fused – on the label under the name I Start Counting. They would then move in a more dancefloor-oriented direction for their next project, Fortran 5, before, as Komputer, releasing some of the most spine-tinglingly original retro electronica. Selections from the duo’s various Mute releases have been compiled on Konnecting, released as part of Mute’s new An Introduction To series. This interview was conducted by email with Baker, but all answers were received in the third person.

The duo met at Middlesex University when Leonard overheard Baker singing one of his own songs, ‘Playboy Girl’. ‘This led to chats about pop music,’ recalls Baker, ‘and soon the two were DJing at the college disco and doing the pogo occasionally.’ On one occasion, a particular selection, ‘Incendiary Device’ by Johnny Moped, earned Leonard a bottle of Newcastle Brown ale in the mouth and several broken teeth. I’m not personally aware of any similar incidents on their own future tours, but I guess there’s still time.

‘The name I Start Counting came from a book by Audrey Erskine Lindop,’ writes Baker. Lindop’s novel would be turned into the 1969 film of the same name which starred a sixteen year old Jenny Agutter. Agutter’s portrayal of a fourteen year old with sexual fantasies toward her far older stepbrother earned the film a moderate level of controversy. ‘It also relates to the punk habit of introducing songs with “1, 2, 3,4”,’ Baker continues.

Despite their friendship, Baker and Leonard didn’t form I Start Counting until the demise of Leonard’s earlier music project, File Under Pop, who released a solitary single (‘Heathrow’) on the Rough Trade label in 1979. ‘Daniel Miller had his address on the sleeve of The Normal’s ‘Warm Leatherette’ single,’ Baker remembers. ‘File Under Pop contacted Daniel and met up with him in a pub in Hampstead. Simon and he became friends and Daniel recorded some songs with them which never saw the light of day. One was called ‘Connect Until Connected’. Another was ‘Small Hut’.’

The dissolution of File Under Pop led to Leonard and Baker working together and recording demos which they passed to Miller; I Start Counting signed to Mute in 1984, going on to produce a small but significant body of work starting with the subdued joy of ‘Letters To A Friend’ and concluding with 1989’s ‘Million Headed Monster’.

As they began to record demos for what may have become the third I Start Counting album, a growing dancefloor influence led to forming Fortran 5. Fortran was even then a defunct programming language, now more or less as lost as vestigial regional English dialects. Over their first two exceptionally diverse albums, 1991’s Blues and 1993’s Bad Head Park, Fortran 5 found themselves collaborating with all manner of unexpected contributors to produce quirky club-friendly fodder. ‘Rod Slater was one of our collaborators on Bad Head Park,’ Baker tells me when I ask him about Fortran 5’s ‘fun’ dimension. ‘He was originally a member of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. He’s related to a friend of David’s.’

‘We did some work with Neil Arthur on his solo material, and he did some vocals for us in return,’ explains Baker of Arthur’s contribution to the standout ‘Persian Blues’ from Bad Head Park. ‘Thrash and Colin Faver were introduced to us through Mute. We wanted Derek Nimmo to do vocals on the Derek And The Dominos song ‘Layla’ [on Bad Head Park] as the follow up to Sid (James) singing Syd (Barrett) on our first LP, Blues, and he kindly obliged. Miranda Sex Garden were going to be our stage dancers but when the tour fell through we found out that they could also sing.’

I ask Baker about the leftfield move into electronica’s nether regions with Fortran 5’s third album, 1995’s Avocado Suite. ‘We were given permission to be as experimental as we liked, so we were,’ is Baker’s simple response. When I ask about the dreadful bathroom suite the pair are seen relaxing in, he tells me that it was Leonard’s bathroom in Muswell Hill. ‘It’s now in the London Bathroom Museum,’ he quips.

Reacting against the musical Emperor’s New Clothes that was Britpop and its still blander entrails, Leonard and Baker went back in time to electronic music’s pivotal point, namely a certain ground-breaking band from Düsseldorf for Komputer. ‘We got as close as we could to doing Kraftwerk cover versions on The World Of Tomorrow,’ says Baker, referring to the first of Komputer’s three albums, release by Mute in 1997. I wax lyrical about ‘Looking Down On London’, its almost folksy wistfulness for the city balanced out by the more icy, clinical electronic backdrop. When asked about the origins of that track, the response is typically understated. ‘We both lived on hills in London,’ says Baker. It makes complete sense when you think about it.

The World Of Tomorrow was followed by 2002’s Market Led and 2007’s Synthetik, before the duo mostly disappeared from view, returning with a celebrated live set at Mute’s Short Circuit festival in May 2011. Selections of their extensive tenure with the label were presented together in the August of that year as Konnecting, one of a brief series of artist compilations that saw the newly-independent Mute licensing tracks back from EMI.

I ask Baker what’s next for the duo following the release of Konnecting. ‘We have a live set ready to go,’ Baker tells me. ‘If someone will give us a gig,’ he adds. The prospect of a career-spanning series of concerts similar to their set at Short Circuit is an exciting prospect to say the least, so if there are any promoters reading this please, please, please make this happen.

Tickets for TEC006 can be purchased here.

Originally published 2011; edited 2019.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence