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Chris Clarke: Acoustic Body Music

Chris Clark or simply Clark these days is a busy man, making music, incessant touring and learning new instruments.  While uncomfortable with the title of Warp records’ electronic standard bearer with each release Clark has remained popular by keeping the tracks funky, immediate, and accessibly extroverted.

Body riddle is no different, layered, crowd pleasing and already garnering the sort of attention that artists more focused on popularity crave. With a large portion of electronic musicians wanting to become more and more obscure we talked to Clark about what it means to him to make music that reaches people.

Trebuchet found Clark in Peckham, wearing a pink shirt, and ready to talk.

Trebuchet: You seem to enjoy releasing stuff on small unconventional formats like mini CDs, do you have a lot unreleased material?

Clark: Yeah I really liked the format, 3 inches, there is something quite cute about them. I want to do a whole series, there’s a free one (Throttle Clarence) with the album (Body Riddle), and there’s loads more stuff coming out on them. I’m giving away loads of stuff at the moment but I just sort of forget to release music a lot of the time.

The album was ready two years ago but I just wrote a few more tunes, and kept on forgetting to hand it in. Just generally being forgetful about the fact that I’ve got a profile.  If you’re really diligent and geared to the industry you make an effort to keep it up; which I haven’t done at all over the last three years. I’ve been doing loads of gigs and playing loads of new material. I don’t see the point of putting a new record out just for the sake of it; just to keep your profile up. I mean, there are so many people out there who are really well known but perhaps not really well liked.

Also, its just quite fun waiting three years; you get quite a big development within that length of time, and I learned how to play the drums for this album and it’s more live-sounding as a result. I think it’s just good to have that space away from… well just to have no pressure basically.

T: Tell me about writing a track like Herzog.

C: I can’t remember how I did that, it’s a pretty old track. I think I wrote that one really quickly – I just came up with a riff really late at night, like I usually do. I was in a relationship at the time, but I’d always set my alarm for like, 3am, and just get up to do music then.

You’re sort of in a weird intuitive zone then; you’re not bogged down by all the stuff that clouds your head up in the day. I guess you’re pretty egoless in a way, just plucking things, notes, out of places that you don’t usually explore.

You’re a bit more impressionable when you’re barely awake, to sounds and hearing certain melodies. Its clichéd but its almost like listening as a child… you can have a sense of wonder about stuff… and being in that zone where you can lose any cynicism about music and not treat it like any kind of equation.

Just kinda being impressed by stuff, and I think the only way I can get into that zone is by constantly working on stuff. I guess I just find it hard not to be inspired by music in a way. I think the reason my music sounds the way it does is because I spend a lot of time in my own little world – it doesn’t really involve any social activities based around it. It is what it is and I just get on with it on my own terms.

If you look at a scene like Hiphop or DnB its very much based on a community, its homogenised and in that way its very restrictive, with boundaries and etiquette, and there’s just none of that in my music, there’s no etiquette at all; I just totally please myself, and that’s exactly how I want it. That’s not to say I’m totally hermetic; I’ve got plenty of friends who influence each other and work with each other and do stuff and help each other out; but its very sort of non-conformist really, so everything’s panned out pretty well.

T: Drum n Bass seems like less of an influence on Body Riddle than in previous releases.

Mm yeah, I was totally influenced by it in the late ‘90s, and that’s where a lot of my early releases came from. I was really into Nico, No U-turn, stuff like that, it was mental when I first heard that. I guess it was cheesy brutal sci-fi, but in a good way rather than the shit way that it became. I don’t really follow it now at all, some of it now is laughable, like you get on digital TV. I’ve got a mate who’s really into Grime, he keeps doing me mixtapes that are ace… like so, so aggro, its fucking amazing.

As for DnB, I haven’t followed it for so long but I still find myself going back to the old stuff, and then maybe some of the more recent Dillinja stuff, I think his stuff is incredible, almost like he’s taking the piss the production is so amazing. Not on all of it and it’s still got the cheese element, but tracks like ‘Crunch’ etc. I’ve listened to those more than I have supposedly timeless avant-garde stuff.

There’s so much posturing in the avant-garde in that you listen to it and you’re supposed to reflect on how it’s part of this canon and its forever immortal or whatever…and like I’ve listened to pieces that I really like but I never go back to them. Whereas someone like Dillinja, who’s so ‘low brow’ and mainstream or whatever, but I’ve gone back to his music so many times, and what does that say about timelessness and all these concepts that you’re supposed to revere and aspire to as a musician? It’s just absolute horse-shit. The idea of posterity in your music, and doing something that’s going to last… I think a lot of people get infected and caught up with those ideas, and often it makes their music really dull. It just proves that it’s an illusion and something that people manipulate in order to project their ‘art’ onto the world. But basically I’m just sticking up for Dillinja’s production because I think it’s so awesome.

T: When did you start listening to Moondog?

A mate did me a CD about a year and a half ago. He’s been sampled to fuck it’s really depressing. Mr. Scruff sampled him, and everyone hears Mr. Scruff songs and goes, ‘Oh it’s Mr. Scruff, he’s really wicked’, when in actual fact like all the good bits are just Moondog loops, like massive sections.

T: Do you do a lot of sampling yourself?

No, not really at all, just make my own stuff. I did at first, like when I first got a sampler I was really interested in it, and that was when samplers were really high tech…they were like machines of the future, I must have been about 16 at the time. I mean, I’m not saying its bad; some people do it really well. With Mr. Scruff, its not necessarily slagging him off, maybe it’s only a few tracks he’s used Moondog samples on. No, people do it really well and you can do amazing stuff with other people’s music (I’m not a puritan!) but I was always much better at making my own sounds.

T: You have cited (Bernard) Parmegiani as an influence.

Yeah, the last album, I was really into his stuff; recently I haven’t been so much into Musique Concrete as I was for the last record. I’ve got a lot of mates who are purely into avant-garde stuff, so it felt like doing this album and doing something more poppy was the most unique path I could follow. I guess if you’re only exposed to pop music then Musique Concrete and electro-acoustic music seems really fresh and it did to me for a while but, because that’s kinda my history it felt like the most unique path I could follow would be to do really strong melodic stuff.

I think I just get more confident with music the more I learn about it, and this record is just a lot more punchy…like on Roulette Thrift Run, there’s a sort of James Chancy horn that’s like found sound, but its not an actual horn, I just found a way to make it using lots of different sounds, using different sampling techniques at different sampling rates. I think this album just has more swagger, and that’s why I like Parmegiani: his stuff is really kinda academic but it’s punchy and direct, not wanky and drifty. His work is homogenous and solid, almost pop-electro-acoustic. His best album I think is ‘The Nature of Sound’, 13 or 14 tracks, and they’re all only 3 or 4 minutes long; it’s a pretty accessible format for that sort of music, and that’s partly why he’s a big influence.

T: Have you ever seen Parmegiani, is he still playing?

I saw him play in Birmingham, he just sort of played that album, it was a bit disappointing actually, not because of him, rather ‘cos of all the tossers that run that sort of sound-design project; they’re just so insular.

T: That said, Warp has a reputation for being pretty insular?

I don’t really talk to Warp that much, perhaps I haven’t noticed because I’m on the inside (laughs). Perhaps it is a very ‘bubble-like’ experience, but then, you know, what isn’t in the media really?

T: So to step outside that bubble is to go in a poppier direction?

Yeah, but then I’m under no delusions…its no James Blunt, but to me its catchy music, accessible.

T: In a lot of interviews I’ve read, and your biography, you are often referred to as a torch-bearer for Warp records?

I’ve heard similar things. I’ve got no idea how to respond to that except that I don’t see that as my responsibility at all. I rarely speak to Warp as I said, on this record there was just the time when I handed it in.

What I like about Warp is they do let you go and get on with stuff. I suppose they’re just too busy. But I really don’t let those sorts of comments or remarks affect me or how I perceive what I do. I still have the same attitude I had when I was 16 you know?

I had this German interviewer once that had a very romanticised vision of music producers, that when we meet each other we have these real intense conversations about music. But I think the truth is that that is just an image, purely an image that has been manufactured to present a cosy, cohesive idea of musicians.

Also, being of a younger generation, I wasn’t around with people like Aphex and Squarepusher doing music in the ‘90s, so in that sense I’m not involved and not really got any desire to be involved in a particular clique or whatever. And I don’t think they have either, it’s just a comfortable image that the media might use.

This German interviewer, I didn’t mean to sound facetious, but I was saying that when we do meet up we might talk about really normal things, and he was really enamoured with this idea of us sparking off one another and wouldn’t let it go.

That said, I’ve got loads of friends doing music that no one has heard about, that I think do awesome stuff, like Bibio who’s released a few things and Ed Law who did an album on Planet MU that was really ace.

T: I take it you’re still writing and recording at the moment?

I haven’t gone near a computer for a while, just been playing instruments, drums, bits-n-bobs. To become enchanted by something again I think the best thing is to keep away from it for a while, get some space between you and it. I’ve still been writing and recording on samplers and stuff.

But mostly drums and guitar, I like finger picking, classical styles, more James Blunt (laughs), we’re all mere streams flowing into the major current that is James Blunt, he’s a genius (laughter).

Strange isn’t it, that someone can write music that’s that contrived and commercial, and just like the lowest common-denominator but still…

T: But is it? I mean he believes in it.

Possibly yeah. It’s like politicians: if they believe what they say then it makes them stronger in a way. Like it’s very easy to think of them as two-faced, but although they’re embroiled in contradictions I’m sure they often believe in it all.

T: How about professional musicians, which I guess you are?

I’ve never…I just find the term really amusing, and I know it’s pointless to get pedantic.

T: So do you think that they don’t inject what they do with emotion and feeling? Is that part of the professionalism?

I’m sure they do, but really I have no idea, I’m just referring to a vague stereotype that I’m enjoying poking fun at. It’s a bit harsh and maybe they do…but yeah James Blunt: maybe he does totally believe in what he does, I mean I guess he must do.

T: Bodyriddle?

Bodyriddle! I just like the sound of the words, together, there’s no grand concept behind it. It doesn’t link to the music, the title always comes afterwards for me. It would just be really pretentious for me to pretend I had a clear-cut idea of what it meant, cos I don’t at all, it was an afterthought. It’s something that you just tie in and I think it fits; I like the sound. I don’t want to puncture anyone’s imaginative leaps of what it could mean.

T: Ahem, ‘Herzog’ is a film-director…

Yeah I can’t lie about that, that’s a pretty blatant dedication to him. I watched ‘Heart of Glass’, which is a really good film, but the part I find amazing is the first ten minutes. It’s got a proggy soundtrack and the first ten minutes is just mind-blowingly fucking amazing.

You’d have to watch it, I couldn’t do it justice in words, but the script and dialogue is so relentlessly moving, and I watched that and wanted to do a piece of music related to it; perhaps use the visuals in a live set for that track. He comes up with iconic images, and that sense of tiny ineffectual people attempting the impossible; that sense of adventure. Herzog seems such an interesting guy in interviews, and it’s hard not to be inspired by his egalitarian visions.

He riles against academia and the idea of film being a formal thing that you study. He says what an artist should do is basically, they should box for about an hour a day, and then he says they should walk from one country to another across the border, with a notepad, just recording everything they see. I dunno, I just think he gives you a beating in terms of your self-concept of what you do and I find that really inspiring…just his whole approach is so hands-on. And ‘Grizzly Man’ is amazing…

T: ‘Grizzly Man’ yes! I mean, there was this huge thing about whether it was staged or not, but what an amazing film!

Yeah I kinda feel that he deserved it, in a kinda rough-justice way. He’s a pretty weird guy.

T: But then, his character, and Steve Irwin’s character…

Yeah totally. Did you read that his fans have been cutting off the tails of sting-rays in vengeance attacks? Isn’t that the most retarded thing? It’s so wrong.

T: Surely that’s something that he would disagree with

Well I don’t know, maybe he would, but at the same time he was just totally invading animals’ private spaces and breaking all sorts of entrenched rules of nature, and in that way, the fact that he died like that is sorta rough-justice.

Clark is one the one hand a lauded musician on an immensely influential label that has housed some of the greatest musicians in the last twenty years and on the other, like many electronic musicians. he makes music in a social vacuum. However, rather than being isolated by this he talks about connecting with sound in an abstract, awe filled way, often in the small hours of the morning, with little pretensions about previous music he’s made and perhaps even moving away from the idea that he’s making ‘music’ in a larger defined way rather than creating something psychologically elemental that intimately moves people.

With releases like Body Riddle the clichés of exploring through music certainly applies here, internal journeys, found sounds that throw titillating curveballs at the listeners, but perhaps paradoxically the musical vocabulary here is vox dancefloor.

Off tape he spoke at length about the craft of making the music that he does, explaining again that to him the intellectual and academic explanations of music aren’t what interests him as a producer, so much as the process of twisting sound slightly past the familiar but keeping enough textural and rhythmic clues that people whether they want to think about music or just move to it are satiated. That said, through the IDM tag Clark is surrounded by people that do think about the intellectual pretensions of making and listening to music and like the poor German reporter are hoping for some easy enlightenment.

Indeed, Clark wants to make intellectual records that don’t sound like intellectual records and so stands not so much an imposter as a dangerous interloper and in the end, the intellectualism of Body Riddle, as the name suggests, isn’t in posterity but immediacy, which is in itself pretty smart.

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