1. Hold Everything Dear takes its name from a book published in 2007 : how is it linked to it and why did you want to refer to a work that is quite recent ?
My Partner gave me a copy of this book in 2007 and it touched me deeply.The strength of vision and poetry contained within John Berger’s writing had a huge impact upon me.I was working on several different threads of music at that time, secluded away in the mountains of Kobe (Japan), surrounded by “the calligraphy of birds…”, i was attempting to re-position myself musically, with only my computer and a mini-disc (for field recordings) as my tools.my earliest work with the computer, “the crackle of my soul” was deliberately noise-based and i followed that trajectory more or less with “up here in the clouds” but i was determined to make this latest piece i was working on (in 2007) a bit more STILL.attempting to take some of the nervousness out of my work.i’m nervous by nature, so no easy task as my back catalogue will testify – though, there have been previous attempts at capturing a more tranquil mood with short pieces of piano from “in this world” and “the wind is strong”.all too fleeting though and i wanted to stay in that moment of tranquility for longer.I’d recorded a track for a Cherbourg-based compilation for Trinity magazine entitled “Surrounded by Sky and the Stillness of Time” which was a nudge in that direction and then i read John Berger’s book and it solidified my belief in what i was aiming for.I mainly use non-melodic sounds to construct my work, whispers from the machinery that collide to create an implied melodic sense.small moments of pure magic that when fitted together create something new and otherworldly.Berger’s writing connects because he has an artists eye for the small details that somehow get disturbed, forgotten or pushed aside by that element of spectacle in society that holds our gaze and seduces us away from our paths.It didn’t matter to me that it was a recently published book.I just wanted to herald it and pin my colours to that mast.I hope that even one person that hears my record, is inspired to read the book.the world needs to pay attention to such voices.
Surrounded by Sky and the Stillness of Time
2. Hold Everything Dear comes quite quickly after last year’s Up Here In The Clouds : what do you feel those records have in common ? Are they a reaction to one another ? How are they affected by the fact that they are on Editions Mego : does the label have anything to say about the music itself ?
I had all three albums nearly completed when i first joined the Editions Mego stable.I had begun my computer sketches in 2001 but i was moving between North America and Asia during the first few years – I spent 2003 in Hong Kong and was inspired by the sounds in that magnificent “city”..In early 2004 i had relocated to Kobe in Japan and was ready to pin my ideas down.By 2005 the first album (Crackle) had taken shape.Then the second album (Clouds) started forming and by 2007 that was almost finished so i started to sketch new ideas for a third album (Hold Everything Dear.) A trilogy seemed organically natural.
The point being that the work on all three projects definitely overlapped, so i would hope they are all intrinsically connected.However, i was determined to approach each one as differently as i could.With Hold Everything Dear i wanted to somehow find that stillness and to involve more “actually played instruments” and the field-recordings i’d been collecting on my travels around Japan and China.At this time i had also re-connected with one of my old Cindytalk bandmates from London, Matt Kinnison.He had been incredibly supportive about my earlier computer experiments, which were something of a leap from previous Cindytalk work, so during the sketching of the third album Matt started sending me sounds he’d been working on at his studio in Southend, Essex.He’d been experimenting with Yayli Tanbur and Trumpet Marine, so he sent some of his Trumpet Marine recordings which i incorporated into my work.These were sadly to be amongst the last music he made, as he died of cancer in 2008.Added to this i had it in my mind to record some short piano improvisations for the album too.The involvement of Editions Mego came in the spring of 2009, i think, i was back in London working with a new band line-up, working towards our Autumn tour of France.In fact,band member Sherrill Crosby had secretly sent all three albums to Peter Rehberg, as she knew it was a label i was particularly fond of.He liked them and offered to release all three.I’m not a voracious collector of music, i’m usually too busy making my own but i try to keep an ear open for new and interesting musics.I had become aware of Mego in the late 1990′s with Pita, Farmers Manual and Fennesz and i’d followed it’s development with great joy over the years.It seems as though Peter had liked some of my early music with Cindytalk, especially the more abstract and experimental work and there’s no doubt that since then i’d been inspired by what he and his fellow Mego artists were doing, so i think that this coupling has been very special for me and hopefully to emego as well.I don’t necessarily feel i’m technologically at their level but i hope that i bring a different set of skills and maybe add a little shade of warmth to the mix.
3. Your sound seems to rely very much on found noises and field recordings : how do you record / find them ? How do you pick them up to be part of the music ? They seem very much present on the new record : is it a way for you to incorporate the real world within your music which would be too abstract otherwise ? Is it a way of making the record a sort of diary of a particular moment ?
Hmmm, even back in the punk days with The Freeze (Edinburgh punk band 1976-1982) i was using found sound and tape recordings at live gigs.It just seemed natural to play with sounds, to take disparate elements and throw them together to see what might happen.Early on i recorded a family conversation and used it as a backdrop to a live gig.That playfulness was taken to much further extremes when we changed our name to Cindytalk in 1982.Our albums from Camouflage Heart onwards are full of such moments.Camouflage Heart ends with sounds i’d recorded at Euston Station (London) in 1984.As some people walk around with a camera taking snapshots, i carry a mini-disc recorder and record the sounds that i find interesting as i go along.I’m fascinated by the everyday sonic motion that surrounds us.It’s always been a huge sonic inspiration.I was influenced by the original EG ambient releases and early European Industrial music and both used environmental sound within their ideas, in very different ways.At this moment, on a warm summers day in London, the door is open and the sound of construction fills the air.I always liked that, intermingling with the birds, the trees, the sounds of nature.That’s the essence of music for me.Since i became a huge fan of the films of Yasijuro Ozu some years ago, whenever i hear those sounds now i’m instantly and beautifully transported to Japan… much of Ozu’s best work of the 1950′s features the sound of the post-war re-building of Tokyo.It’s intensely elegiac to me.During my own travels through Asia, i wanted to capture something of the essence of these places and my way of doing it is through sound recordings.It seems natural for me to then make music with these recordings.Instinct plays a big part in that of course…. during the recordings for Hold Everything Dear, my partner and i visited Shanghai, which of course is one of the biggest buildings sites in the world – constant dustflow, constant clanging of large machinery – we happened upon Fuxing Park in the old French Quarter, at the park gates we stopped to read a sign which said something along the lines of “civilised park of infinite tranquility”… we smiled and walked inside.we didn’t emerge from the park for several hours and when we did eventually leave, it was reluctantly. it was exactly as it had promised on the sign, our cynical european minds, suitably altered.the recordings i made in there were blissful.Starting with the machinery from the outside then onto a class of ballroom dancers next to a sparkling fountain (In Dust to Delight.) From there i recorded mesmeric kite flyers, a mah jong tournament and a random harmonica player who just happened to be wandering around the park as he played (Fly Away Over Here.) All very particular things that were happening in that park on that day.The poetry of everyday life.Just like an Ozu film.Of course there are other found sounds and field recordings that are processed into noise, melody and percussion as well.
4. Piano and guitar also are featured : what is your relation to those instruments ? Do you play them yourself or do you sample them ? What attracts you to their sounds ?
There are no guitars on this album.Piano, definitely.All of the Piano pieces are improvised.I’m not a trained musician and couldn’t play any tunes on request but i absolutely adore the Piano.It was a matter of pure instinct for me to attempt to find simple melodic structures with the Piano.I don’t own one and rarely get the chance to play, so each time i do it’s a matter of re-aquainting myself with the instrument.It’s a love affair.Ultimately, i’m a singer, so i think it’s likely that i’m trying to find a way to sing through the Piano.I love melody as much as i love noise so i’m always trying to flesh out those tiny, fleeting moments of beauty, to capture them before they slip away.I also love the percussive aspects of the piano, the clicking and chiming of the hammers, even the creaking of the piano stool appeals to me, it merges nicely with my breathing as i play.it’s organic, and very pure.As far as sampling is concerned, there are no boundaries for me with that.I began this particular phase of Cindytalk by dj’ing at hardcore techno parties, using turntables as my instrument.This was before i even had a laptop.I would abuse and torture the records and try to build up a fabric of noise and rhythm.Then, when i eventually got a laptop (2000) i was able to start sampling some of those brutalised sounds and use them as building blocks for my experiments.I also used cd-decks in a similar fashion.
5. Actually, what instruments do you use ? And how do you process them ?
The only actual instruments i use are my voice, the piano and a virtual analog keyboard (a Nord Lead 2.) Everything goes through my Mac Book Pro where i use Bias Peak, Ableton Live, Native Instruments’ Reaktor and Steinberg’s Cubase 5.I’m not particularly interested in software, gadgets or technology to be very honest, all i care about is knowing enough so i can write poetry with them.It’s a means to an end for me, which i realise is unusual for artists in this field,where the fiddling is an end unto itself.I’m less interested in the processes and much more so in the architecture and structure of the sounds.That’s not to say i don’t have a lot of fun whilst i’m creating this music, i absolutely do but i don’t dwell on it.
It’s the pure sound and shape of things that gets me excited
6. Your music is very much atmospheric but always makes itself felt and heard : drones are both very subtle and very present, on the forefront. Who or what has the most informed your sound ?
I’m Scottish, so i’d say that traditional folk music is the first thing that informs my approach.And Celtic folk music from a Scottish angle usually means laments and melancholic moods.The long drones of the highland pipes are a great love of mine, especially the classical bagpipe playing of the Piobaireachd (pronounced Pibroch), which lends itself very well to experimental areas of music.Whilst Cindytalk were touring in the U.S. in 1996, we’d stopped somewhere and i had been introduced very briefly to a cd box set of sounds recorded in deep space.Sub bass, piercing crackles & solar storms, i haven’t heard any of that since but i was certainly intrigued enough that i wanted to attempt to create a music which had some of that other worldly mystery to it.i only caught a glimpse of it but i sometimes feel as an artist it’s better not to see the influence too clearly but rather to see it from the corner of your eye, then imagine what it could be like and from there you can set about creating your version of it.Another great but more recent inspiration is Gagaku, the traditional court music of (Shinto) Japan, which to many western ears sounds jarring and discordant but to me is an absolute height of sonic beauty.I grew up listening to Brian Eno, the dark ambient tones on Discreet Music (1975) were an inspiration for me as were his seminal albums with Robert Fripp No Pussyfooting and Evening Star, though i was less interested in Robert Fripp’s guitar noodling than i was in Eno’s droning synths.Eno’s subsequent albums, Music for Films, Music for Airports, On Land and others became crucial influences in my developmemt.Later, i was hugely invigorated by the long slow deep tones of Thomas Köner’s early work.Asmus Tietchens is another that i find inspirational.
7. What difference do you make between a record and a live concert : how do you “reproduce” the record on stage ?
That’s a dilemma of sorts, one that i’m always trying to reconcile.I’m an improviser at heart and with these recent albums i’ve improvised the strands and then pieced them together in as poetic a way as i could.But i’m not convinced i would be able to perform them live in this way, not on my own at least.One way of dealing with this was to put together a full live band, using my computer music as an undercurrent thread and have the band either perform written songs or improvise within that fabric of sound.It has been working very well that way.It’s quite a unique approach which has great dynamic tension as the music is being pulled in different directions as it progresses.However, lately i’ve been picking up more and more bookings purely in the solo Cindytalk guise, so what i generally do with that is to very carefully structure a computer set culled from my repertoire and from that solid foundation, improvise voice and piano alongside it.At some point i’d like to be able to use the computer live to generate new sounds from a library of threads and sketches that i have loaded onto my hard drive.. but I don’t want to give up singing in the live situation entirely, so we’ll see how that develops.It’s still a big learning curve for me.an exciting one though, nonetheless.
8. Transgender is often quoted when it comes to you. But, how do you feel it shows in the music ? do you think the transgender issue affects the music you are making ? In which ways ?
I was “transgendered” before i was a musician or singer.I’ve felt a strong gender shift since early childhood, so in many ways my whole approach to life, which includes my work, has been shaped by that.Although the same could be said about being from Scotland too insomuch as these things affect the way we see anddo things.My gender “difference”, as a young person certainly detached me from those around me growing up.Made me very solitary, very internal, made me think deeply, from a very early age, about who i was and how i might be able to connect with the world.We all do that of course, and in fact, i truly believe that we’re all unique but if you have a specific “difference” that causes you to struggle with those around you it can force you into corners which either destroy you or toughen you up.mine was certainly the latter.I always felt as though deep inside i was “female” but i was strong enough when i was young not to entirely discard my “male”aspects, so i was equally interested in say, football (i’m a lifelong glasgow celtic supporter) as i was in poetry.of course i don’t particularly pay much credence togender conditioning, i prefer to just be a human being who likes pink AND blue to use a gender cliche.But i decided that when i was very young.. so from an early age i was gender shifting in very natural ways.my artistic approach has always been hammer and feather and i imagine that is heightened by my being as comfortable with the “feminine” as the “masculine”.as mentioned previously, i don’t necessarily believe that harsh dynamics in music are masculine and thata lighter touch is feminine, rather, i feel they are just aspects of a more rounded human approach, although i’m yet to be convinced that’s a universally held view. Cindytalk came out of a relatively harsh European post-punk / industrial scene and i remember vividly being castigated in response to our second album “In This World” (split into two separate vinyl albums – one containing mainly dark harsh noisy tracks, the other, much quieter, more subtle, desolate pieces) for daring to show that lighter touch.the accusers thinking we’d betrayed our industrial roots by becoming more girlish in style.not a criticism i was at all concerned by.It should be said that i’m no expert on the gender situation, i haven’t studied it but i have lived it for most of my life.i prefer to define my own position and allow it to be fluid rather than let someone else who doesn’t know me, tell me who or what i am and how i fit or don’t fit in with my world.we all too easily succumb to that in our lives, sadly.Transgender is just a loose term of reference though, it only hints at who a person is.a label to make it slightly easier in attempting to understanding how we are.My third sex position, if you will, is very important to me, it gives me the freedom to be who i choose to be in this fucked up and intolerant world BUT i have no real desire to be seen as just that. like everybody else i’m an amalgam of many different moods and characters and as i stated previously, being a Scottish Celt has just as much of an impact on my life and music as does my gender position.Being called Cindytalk is no co-incidence though, when i was choosing this name back in the early 1980′s i was very determined to give my music a “feminine” title and i still see Cindytalk as having a particularly “feminine” soul… also, alongside the serious artistic dimensions of my work i also have a HUGE amount of FUN picking out nice clothes and shoes to wear
9. You have played with Robert Hampson : what is your relationship and what does he add to your music ?
I’ve long been inspired by Robert’s work, specifically Main and his eponymous solo works.I was aware of his first band Loop from their beginnings but it was all a bit too rock’n'roll for my tastes, however, when he moved into more abstract areas with Main, i totally fell in love with his work.I’d been going on a similar path myself and definitely saw him as a fellow traveller.He has an exquisite artistic vision.Very pure.He’s a tad more academic than i am in his approach but we both have a similar sense of the mischievous.Previously, I hadn’t known him personally, i was just listening to his music from afar, however, i had dreamed of working with him in some capacity and purely by chance the first day i met Peter Rehberg to discuss my Editions Mego releases in 2009, he was also meeting Robert for a similar discussion regarding Robert’s work.I took advantage of the co-incidence and hung about to meet him.We hit it off immediately, as though we’d been old friends for years and we very quickly started considering a split release on eMego, which eventually became a February 2010 10″ vinyl release “Five Mountains of Fire” / “Antarctica Ends Here.It was then a logical step to discuss making music together in some form or another.Robert joined me at the Domino Festival in Brussels in April of this year where he played guitar live for the first time in about 13 years.Within the Main structure he had abandoned the guitar for field recordings a long time past but he had intimated to me that he was looking to re-explore the guitar and i felt that him joining me in Cindytalk might be a nice place to start.We worked from my computer-based music and from that foundation we improvised voice and guitar respectively to create new layers of fevered sound.He hasn’t joined the band in an way, of course, it will be more of a freeform arrangement where we will occasionally join up and do whatever takes our fancy… both in a Cindytalk sense and possibly with the newly re-constituted Main as well.In fact, I’m hoping that he will join me for the Cindytalk concert at the Body & Soul Festival : Masculin / Feminin at Cite de la Musique, Paris on the 25th November.
10. After all these years, where do you feel the music is taking you and do you think you have the kind of life you wished for when you released your first records?
Music, for me has always been about searching, communicating, sharing.an adventure… i’ve never known exactly where it would take me and i still don’t but it has certainly been an exciting journey so far.Lots of twists and turns, some seriously beautiful moments and some deeply harsh and painful ones.I started my journey with little more than DESIRE in my armoury and had to learn how to communicate musically from scratch… now i’m able to perform live with a computer,my voice and a piano, if you’d suggested that to me back in 1976 when i started, i would have been incredulous.Thankfully the desire is still there and burning as brightly as ever, so that means i’ll continue to attempt to find new corners to play in, new areas to explore… i’m not a trained musician, or an academic with a readily available theory about my music, i see myself as a normal person who continually seeks out new sonic territories to play in, always attempting to share my vision of the world with anybody that chooses to stop and listen.i want to emphasise the simplicity of my approach, to celebrate those that quietly go abouttheir lives in radical ways.not necessarily feeling the need to make a huge fuss about who or what they are, just being and doing will be that revolution of their everyday lives.simple, honest trajectories.my music is hopefully a soundtrack for that state of mind.i shock myself occasionally, that i’m still doing this, that it has allowed me to travel and meet new people and that i still have a platform to make and share these works with others and i’m reminded that there are people who have helped me over the years, many people without whom i couldn’t have done this… i feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to still be able to share my particularly awkward and melancholic view of the world.Where will it take me next? I have absolutely no idea, i just hope that wherever it is, i still have my eyes, ears and heart open and that i’m wearing a beautiful dress and a pair of killer heels……..