ΗΜέRA # 145 / Gravity is the Enemy: A Teleplasmiste interview

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It’s a joy, especially in our days, to find bands able to launch a sound with its own vein of originality, especially in genres overloaded with releases. Teleplasmiste, in their first full-length, deliver a flock of earthly soundscapes. By far one of the most adventurous albums of the year, Frequency Is The New Ecstasy has already been reviewed from this blog some weeks before. And now, I have the opportunity to talk (via e-mail) with two members of the group, Mark O. Pilkington (known from his work in Strange Attractor Press) and Michael J. York, whose name we have noticed in the liner notes of Cyclobe and in credits about Coil.

*At first I think that you have to explain what does the name of the band means.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Teleplasm, like ectoplasm, was a word coined to describe the mysterious albumen-like substance said to have been exteriorized by mediums during trance states. So a teleplasmiste would be a female medium capable of producing ectoplasm. It’s an imaginary word, but one we feel appropriately reflects the elastic, organic, psycho-physiological nature of our music.

*In Gravity is the Enemy seems like you work with the Master Musicians Of Joujouka. Are you fond of the recordings of Brian Jones and Ornette Coleman with the musicians from Morocco? Are the reeds in the track of yours have been recorded from you or a fellow musician (I saw that in a recent gig you work with Ian Kennedy).

The swarm of woodwind on that track was performed and recorded by Michael, to accompany Mark’s synthesizer bass line. Michael is actually a bespoke bagpipe-maker by trade, so has all sorts of exotic skins and pipes lying around his home.

But yes, we’re both keen on the Master Musicians recordings (we’ve heard those by Brian Jones in the 1960s and by Bill Laswell in the 1990s) and the mythology surrounding their music.  Mark has seen them perform a few times in London over the years – there seems to be some controversy as to which members of the troupe hold the authentic claim to the Jajouka lineage, but we’re not fully clued up about that.

For live shows we sometimes like to collaborate with other musicians on the bill. In the case of the Rye Wax performance, it was very spontaneous: we met Ian, who’s a flutist, just before we started our set, and asked him if he’d like to join us for the final section. He kindly agreed and it turned out great. More recently we were joined by our friend the writer and musician MacGillivray who sang in Gaellic using an overtone technique that sounded like a Scottish Highland equivalent of Tuvan throat singing. It was magical and we’re talking with her about a collaboration on a future recording.

*The studio gear that been used for Frequency Is The New Ecstasy is been also used in the gigs? I mean does a concert brings some limitation at this point?

The core of both our studio and live set ups are two Dutch semi-modular Fenix II synthesizers, which we occasionally bolster with one or two other synths. The Fenix is an incredibly dense, versatile and powerful synth – a beast really! – so there’s usually not much need for anything else. But each synth has a subtly different character, and we like to incorporate a variety of textures and timbres into the tracks.

All the compositions on the album are rooted in live performances and recordings done in the studio (or in Mark’s bedroom as was the case with several tracks on the album!). Obviously in the studio you have the luxury of being able to sit back and consider alternative paths, to edit or overdub afterwards in order to coax things closer to your vision, but we’ve tried to keep post-production work to a minimum really. The initial tracks were then polished up by Rob Kelly at Strongroom Studios, an old friend of Michael’s. He’d recently been working on a large scale orchestral recording project, so we felt that he was already in the right zone for our music, while he found it to be a welcome breath of fresh air for his ears.

Our gigs are often quite spontaneous – we don’t use any backing tracks, though sometimes we use loop pedals on the fly. We are just responding to each other, and to the instruments, in real time. This isn’t a limitation as such – it’s not as if we’re making pop songs –  and it lends the live shows a mood and energy of their own. Our performances can vary quite significantly, determined largely by their “set and setting”. We’ve generally been quite lucky in that we’ve performed in unusual environments and worked with the acoustics and resonance of those spaces – churches, crypts and, best of all, a huge disused aeronautical wind tunnel, where we really let rip. There’s a video that someone shot of this online (search for Speed of Sound, Farnborough on Youtube) and you can get a sense of the immensity of the situation. A local university set up a 42-speaker sound system, through which we were pumping some ludicrously low frequencies, around 19Hz at times (the frequency at which human eyeballs are said to vibrate in their sockets!) which left quite a few people feeling happily dazed and confused afterwards! Perhaps topping even this, we’ll be playing at a disused nuclear bunker, Kelvedon Hatch in Essex, on 28 July, alongside some other fantastic acts.

*You use visuals in your gigs or you just rely on the music?

Whenever we can we perform with Pond Scum Light Show (Jenny Pengilly and Jamie Sutcliffe) who create incredible, mesmerizing analog liquid light projections, using natural dyes, plant matter and chemical surfactants along with overhead projectors and strange clay vessels that they’ve sculpted themselves. We’ve become quite a team, to the point that we consider them band members really.

If Pond Scum aren’t available we might perform alongside films we’ve devised ourselves, amongst artworks in a gallery or simply by candlelight. We feel it’s important for there to be an extra musical dimension to the performance – otherwise it can be difficult to reconcile the sight of two men slowly patching cables and making minute adjustments to potentiometers with the sometimes enormous, transcendental sounds that are emerging from the equipment!

*In a recent announcement of a concert of yours I read the phrase «Exploring nature and electricity». Where is the combination of this two in your prospect?

Well, we both love electricity of course – without it there would be no synthesizers for us to play! – and we both love being out in nature. Michael lives in a rural part of southwest England and long walks and rural adventures are a big part of the time we spend together not making music. We’ve yet to play a gig in a field – at least not as Teleplasmiste – but we think there’s definitely a rural character to our sound. We’re always happy when people tell us this – though they also tell us we sound like music made on other planets – but we really don’t think any of it sounds like the product of an urban environment. Although Mark has lived in London all his life, he’s planning his escape this year, so then we’ll really be a rural synthesizer band.

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But we also want to remind people that electricity is fundamental to nature. It’s likely that life on Earth began with a lightning strike, and it’s there when a human egg is fertilized. Electricity flows through us, making our hearts beat, and our minds race, and is present in all life on Earth, probably throughout the universe. Humans have learned to tame it and shape electricity to power our technology-dominated lives – but it will still be there long after we have gone.

*Are there any differences between the release in cd and vinyl?

Yes the CD has one extra track in the middle Mind at Large……a meditation on the void that exists somewhere between side A and side B of the record.

*photo by Josie MacDowel

Stylianos Tziritas

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