Simon Scott’s latest record Bunny turned quite a few ears when it was released on Miasmah late last year, adding a darkly cinematic vibe to the dense layers of acoustic instruments and heavy processing that characterised previous work. We caught up with the Cambridge, UK-based musician and label owner prior to his performance at the Ambientfestival Zivilisation der Lieb in Cologne.
You’ve made music in quite a few different genres throughout your career. When did you decide that a more experimental and field recording based approach was a route you wanted to follow?
It wasn’t a conscious decision – I didn’t sit at home for ten or fifteen years trying to find a scene to join. There’s a whole thread of experimental music and people trying to find their own sounds, like Debussy, Varese, Cage, and so on and so forth, that I really like. I had influences in the ambient, post-rave, mellow, maybe slightly melancholy kind of vibe that comes from the music I still listen to – to bands like the Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, A.R. Kane – but also Debussy, Satie, and all these different things that I think are still in my music somewhere. I didn’t think one day, “right, that’s it, I’m going to be on Miasmah one day” – I just made some music, and a few friends said, “You should send this to Miasmah”.
The next record is all field recording based. I’m from Cambridge, and I live on the edge of the fens in East Anglia. It was drained to basically turn it into arable land, and because peat shrinks, when they took out the water it all fell below sea level. So the land dried, and then re-flooded. I’ve done two years’ worth of field recordings in those areas that are below sea level and that’s the next record. I was trying to pick up something that’s very temporary, something that changes. I don’t want to keep on doing the same thing. So the next record is an evolution, which I think “Bunny” was from “Navigare”.
A lot of artists either use digital processing to turn acoustic instruments into something unrecognisable, or use electronics as ornaments to brighten up vanilla guitar, piano, drums. The relationship between ‘real’ instruments and electronics on “Bunny” seems much more interesting and multifaceted than that. Was there a particular sound you were aiming for, or was it a case of simply using whatever was to hand?
I very deliberately went out and recorded real instruments. For example, the first track I wrote for the album was “Gamma”. I had access to a gamelan, and played it and recorded it for a couple of days at a university. Which was ironic, because just after I did it Taylor Deupree released “Shoals”, so I thought “Damn, I can’t do a gamelan project!”. But I made one track, which was “Gamma”.
I spent a good few years making my dream laptop looper in Max MSP – I learned how to program it, and put together, arduously, a loop system where I could do everything that I did with my guitar pedals. So what I would do is use a really nicely recorded, say, gamelan sample, and work that as the core of the piece, and then around it use the processed sounds. The whole idea is that you’ve got this core real instrument that people think, “oh, it’s a piano, it’s a drum kit”, but then around it you’ve got these kind of sounds that are fragments, that are micro-sounds of that particular instrument. And they sometimes ended up kind of flipping the track on its head. On one track I used a hacked FM3 Buddha machine, and thought that it would be a kind of nice grainy outro that kind of decays into nothing – and it ended up being the main focus of the track! So it was kind of, “start off with this, let’s use this”, and then build up the track.
So for each track most of the sounds come from the real instruments you hear in the track?
All of the sounds you hear come from real instruments. So you’ve got a kind of organic, acoustic thing that’s juxtaposed by digitally processed sounds – hopefully there’s some warmth in there but also some cold digital starkness. That was the idea.
There’s some great drumming on your latest record ‘Bunny’. Any plans to incorporate live drums into your shows?
I tried it last summer at Node Festival, supporting Ryoji Ikeda, and I felt like a kangaroo or something on stage. I was with the laptop, so I’d play some guitar, feed it into the laptop, get something nice going on, run over, pick up a bass, get the bassline going, run over to the drumkit, then back to the laptop – it was the most stressful forty minutes of my life. And… it was a mess. I couldn’t concentrate on the kind of slow evolution of a live set. I see these younger experimental musicians play, and they panic, they’re jumping about, and it’s like “no no, let that just flow a while, just relax”. And the drum kit did the opposite. I was with Ryoji Ikeda, who was a gent, and said “oh yeah, I kinda liked it”, you know… It was the worst show of my life, so no!
Let’s talk about your label, Keshhhhhh. How many ‘h’s are there meant to be?
There are so many great labels out there at the moment, and the numbers are growing all the time. Do you think it’s getting harder these days for labels to really stand out and differentiate themselves?
Yes and no. I think there’s too much music out there, because everything is easily accessible – buying a laptop and buying music software, or getting a cracked copy. So everything is flooded, and it’s very, very hard to actually see the good stuff through the noise. I think some record labels release too much. My whole ethos with what I’m doing now is to try to do a few things, and do them quite simply. My Max patch isn’t complicated, it’s just loopers – it took a while to learn the language and then you put it together. And it’s the same with releasing records – don’t confuse people, don’t do too much. People bang out releases, two or three a month, and then you get a whole other load, and it’s like “woah, I’m still digesting that big pile that you sent two or three months ago!”.
But there are some great labels out there – I think what Taylor’s doing at 12k is fantastic, how the label’s slowly evolving. Type is another really good record label. I think it’s difficult for smaller labels to actually have a voice at the moment because there’s lots of small labels releasing too much. So I plan to release three new records this year, and that’s a lot. Two of them are going to be quite soon – one of them is Marcus Fischer and his project Unrecognizable Now, it’s great, another is Kane [Ikin] and David from Library Tapes, that’s brilliant. And maybe I do another one at the end of the year. You know, you kind of leave it a while, leave it three or four months and then maybe drop something else. There’s too much music, there’s too much stuff to get through.
I also have to mention Raster-Noton as a beautiful record label, they release quite a lot of stuff but the artefact and the whole aesthetic of the label is wonderful, so hats off to those guys as well.
It seems like the emphasis on the “artefact” or physical object has been one way in which labels have tried to set themselves apart and say, “hey, this is something special”.
I think so, yeah. Those [Raster-Noton] guys must not make a lot of money per release. I think their costs must be really extortionate because the packaging’s so gorgeous. But I love that, you know. I think this year is going to be the year of people releasing vinyl, for sure, because people are sick of CDs.
I don’t do the label to make any money out of it, because profits are eaten up by sending out promos, and manufacturing costs are stupid. And it’s actually really hard work, because it’s the sort of thing you have to do outside of everything else. It’s kind of like, “right, I’ve got a Sunday afternoon, I’m going to have to spend six hours hand-stamping this release”. If you don’t love what you do, you don’t do that – you’d quickly get bored running a record label. There’s loads of people out there who’ve put a couple of albums out or whatever, and then thought, “err, this is really hard work and I thought it would be really glamorous and it’s not”. And especially when you’re doing things like duplicating your own cassettes or cutting your own CDs. So really, hats off to people like John Chantler, who I know gets his knife out and hand-cuts the cassette sleeves for Room 40 releases.
And when you see the amount of effort that’s gone into it, it makes it seem that much more valuable.
I think so, yeah. There’s a specific age group that are a lot, lot younger than me who don’t buy music, and that really disturbs me, that they just download music and expect to get it for free. And I think they don’t digest music in the same way. It’s a really long subject that I could talk for hours about, but in a nutshell, I think the people that want the artefact and really love music and the packaging and the aesthetic behind it, etc., they will go and buy it. So they’ll buy the vinyl, they’ll buy even the CD – if the CD’s good quality and there’s a beautiful photograph, there’s something special about it. You know, if it’s mastered well. That’s an artefact. I mean, people are sick of CDs but if it’s Raster-Noton, for example, you go and buy the CD. And I think what it will probably do is make your Saturday night karaoke crew that download music and don’t really appreciate it, it will push them out, eventually. And the people left will be those that really do appreciate the music and the artefact and like the actual physical process of turning the record over and putting the needle in the groove, etc. . Actually swapping a CD – a lot of people download music so much that the process of actually opening a CD tray or flipping a CD in your Mac and ejecting it, that’s eventually going to become the artefact. People will say, “I love putting the CD in and ejecting it!”. Strange!
Finally, are there any artists on your wish list for a Keshhhhhh release?
Not really to be honest with you. There’s no kind of career plan or anything with it. I admire and respect and listen to an awful lot of people, and if someone sends me something and I think it’s really brilliant, then that’s only when I go for it. I could reel off a list of names… but I think I’ll just wait and see who sends me stuff.