The Tyranny of Text:
The Paul Schütze Interview
Interview by Gary Bearman (December 1997)
Paul Schütze is a man of interesting paradoxes. For someone who claims to not be much of a skilled musician, he comes up with some of the most brilliant music this side of the seventies. For someone who spends only a month or two of the year in the studio, he's amazingly prolific, releasing 9 CD's in the last 3 years alone. His music is very hard to classify; ranging from very deep, dark ambient to almost free-form jazz, and all the bizarre uncharted territory in between. His music is held in extremely high regard by both critics and fans alike, at least those lucky enough to have been exposed to him.
Speaking with Paul, an Australian living in London for these last few years, for a couple of hours in early December 1997 with the assistance of the transatlantic phone lines, and in conversing with him since then, I find him to be very modest, friendly, deep, intellectual, intense, humorous, and a person who actually seems to care - just a helluva nice feller, actually. He puts a lot of time and effort into recording, packaging and releasing CD's precisely the way he wants them to be released, and the results show in the work.
In this rather lengthy interview, we discuss some of his landmark releases like "Regard: Music By Film (on Tone Casualities), New Maps of Hell, The Rapture of Metals, and more recent works like the collaboration with Andrew Hulme of O Yuki Conjugate, Fell, Nine Songs from the Garden of Welcome Lies, the Phantom City releases, and his most recent rather enigmatic release, Second Site on Virgin UK. He also shares his thoughts on, among other things; Can, Yes, Tangerine Dream, recording film music, sacred sites, how talking about music isn't really where it's at, Bill Laswell's finger warm-up exercises, "dark" music, even metaphysics. We also get a clear view on the inner workings of what the process of creating music is like for himÖ
PSF: What made you want to be a musician in the first place?
God, that's interesting. I'm not really sure. I think just a very deep interest in sound and music from an early age. I had always as a child been obsessed with painting. I used to paint and draw a lot, and it was always assumed that I would continue to paint. Concurrent with that was a great interest in listening to music, but I didn't have the means to express myself with sound. Then we got a piano when I was about 13 I think, and that single thing may have been the point where I realized I could express myself as well as enjoy listening. So then a transition from painting to music happened over the next couple of years. That was it really.
PSF: What are some of your influences? What are some of your favorite groups or musicians or albums?
Well, there are lots of things. There are things which have influenced me hugely which you wouldn't necessarily hear in my work. Things which have influenced me in the way I think about music perhaps more than the way I compose music. I'd have to say the most formative influence on the way I thought about music was definitely the German group Can. Simultaneous with that was a very strong interest in a lot of the jazz that was happening in the late 60's and early 70's - Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Julian Priester, Eddie Henderson, Tony Williams - that sort of stuff. Beyond that the influences are really too numerous to mention. There are certain albums that are very important to me that would always be in my top 20 discs, amongst those would be things like Robert Ashley's Automatic Writing, Future Days by Can, In a Silent Way by Miles Davis, Tabula Rasa by Arvo Part - it's a mixed bag of things really. I'm very keen on 20th century French piano music - Satie, Ravel, Debussy and Poulenc, and also very keen on a Spanish contemporary of theirs called Frederico Mompou. These are influences which will not be obvious in my composition as my skills completely preclude them in being introduced literally into my work.
PSF: Well, I can definitely here the Can influences, at least in terms of the rhythmic part of it. A lot of your work has a lot of rhythmic feel to it.
And that's one of the great lessons of listening to Can - just rhythm. I don't think anyone's ever come close to exploring rhythm in the way they did. To me the best lesson you can give anyone about rhythm is just to give them the entire Can back catalogue and tell them to listen to it closely. I think unless they were pretty stupid they would have got an awful lot of information about rhythms out of that.
PSF: They were pretty damn innovative.
Well, yeah. I was talking a friend recently, and he was asking what were the worst things about this year, and one of the worst things was that anytime anyone asks you what you're listening to, you have to say old stuff, the things I come back to when I'm wanting to be stimulated are 20 years old. I'd really like to say that I'm listening to this fantastic new thing, but I do find myself going back to those records a lot, and it may be that I heard them initially in my adolescence, and invariably anything you hear in your adolescence takes on a profound importance as part of the way your mind works.
PSF: A lot of the music I was listening to when I was an adolescent was heavy metal, but thankfully I managed to get past that.
Well, I used to listen to heavy metal music as well at that time. I used to listen to a lot of prog rock, and a lot of heavy metal, everything from Led Zeppelin to Deep Purple to Yes. At the same time I listened to Stockhausen, Coltrane, Allah Rakhar, Faust and Weather Report. There is an interesting phenomena at the moment where certain musicians and writers systematically rewrite the histories of thier own musical taste so they will accord with whatever ephemeral trend prevails at the moment. It's quite craven really, and shows a grim lack of conviction. I mean you look at a band like Yes, and this band sold hundreds of thousands of records, and yet itís extremely difficult to find anyone alive who will actually admit to having bought one. Now, someoneís got to have bought these records.
PSF: Well, Iíve met a lot of people who will admit to that, at least in the States.
Iím quite happy to admit to liking listening to their old recordings. I lost the plot after Relayer, but there was a time when that music was tremendously important to me, however naff it might seem now. I think itís a strange kind of betrayal of self to not have the strength of your own convictions.
PSF: How did your career start - Laughing Hands and before that?
Well, I donít think you could really call Laughing Hands a career in the sense that Iíve only been able to make a living making music from the point when I started writing film music which was about 1984-85. Prior to that it was a passionate hobby, and Laughing Hands was preceded by a couple of very very early experiments. Also there was a free improv jazz band in which I used to play percussion and electronics. We played around a bit in Melbourne where I grew up. That was interesting, but not ultimately satisfying because the jazz players in it obviously had an existing and partly developed language which was the history of jazz, the history of improv, to draw on, whereas I felt I was starting from scratch which put us in fundamentally different situations creativly. By the time Laughing Hands had gotten down to being just two people, myself and Ian Russel, we had got to the point where we felt we did have the makings of a language that we could use comfortably and that was very interesting. It became difficult for us to continue because we got very badly ripped off by a couple of distributors. We actually sold quite a lot of records, particularly in Germany, but we had one German distributor who really took us to the cleaners. Because it was all our own money it just became impossible.
PSF: In talking about that, how do you find dealing with the music business? Is it mostly a pain in the ass, or do you manage to find people who you trust and are happy with? Iíve noticed you move around a lot with labels.
With very few exceptions, itís a huge pain in the ass, yeah. I mean the thing that always surprises me, and which Iíve mentioned before in interviews, is that contrary to the popular misconception that large labels are mercenary and manipulative, and small labels are idealistic, havens of reason and humanism, I found it very often the opposite. The worst treatment Iíve had consistently, and the most fantastically unethical and immoral kind of exploitation Iíve seen has largely been at the hands of small labels, and the bulk of time Iíve been treated reasonably has been by larger labels.
PSF: Like Virgin?
Virgin being definitely the best case scenario. So itís very interesting that turned about to be the case really.
PSF: Well, I also have heard many horror stories about people in smaller bands with smaller labels, so Iím not surprised. It must be an interesting challenge to maintain your artistic integrity and just try to get the music out there, and have to deal with the red tape of the industry.
I never have any trouble doing that. The trouble I have is in ever getting paid for what Iíve done, and the bottom line is you cannot continue to produce and release work on labels which for some bizarre reason neglect to ever account to you, or actually pay you, or will only pay you when youíve spent almost as much money as they owe you in trying to chase them up, not to mention fantastic amounts of time and energy. It is definitely the downside. There are some very serious weak links in the chain between the artist and the audience, and labels, distributors, press and retailers are all evenly culpable I think.
PSF: On a different note, what does it mean to you to make music?
What does it mean to me? Thatís kind of a big question...
PSF: How important is it?
Itís hugely important. Itís so important I donít really think about it if you see what I mean. I couldnít really not do it. Although, having said that, I donít do it that much in terms of my total time. I actually spend very little time in the studio making a piece. I spend a great deal of time trying to get the pieces released the way I want them released. With all of the peripheral administrative stuff - I spend a huge amount of time doing that - which is very dull, actually. But then the upside of that is that I have a lot of time to think about what I'm going to do next and really consider it. Perhaps if I were in the situation where I could go into the studio any time of the day and night and just work, I may never quite get the critical distance that I need.
PSF: And yet youíre very prolific, releasing 17 albums since 1989, 9 of those since 1995.
I know it looks as though I do a lot of work, but the thing is I work very quickly, and I never spend more than two months of any year actually working on music. This year I donít think Iíve spent one entire month working which is appalling. A lot of what came out this year was recorded last year. The only thing Iíve done this year is Second Site. Itís weird, it really does look as though I do a huge amount of work, but I think itís because I worked on film for such a long time. Filmmaking is a really manic process. Everything has to be done yesterday. It really teaches you to focus your mind and work in a very economical and speedy way. I find it quite difficult to work slowly.
PSF: For myself in terms of creativity and inspiration, I think a lot of people kind of think of it as a limited thing, like itís something that visits you every once in a while if youíre lucky. For me, my experience is that thereís this infinite pool of creativity, and really you can just dip into it as much as you want to. What is it like for you in terms of inspiration and creativity? What is that process like for you?
Iíve never thought much about this until recently, until someone asked me a similar question. Someone was saying to me, "Donít you ever get terrified of getting writerís block?" Itís never happened. I mean, at the moment Iíve got 6 projects I have worked out in my head that are ready to go. Any one of them could start tomorrow. I have no doubt that they will develop and that there wonít be any serious problems. There will be all kinds of challenges and things along the way, and there will be problems to solve, but they are solvable. Iíve never worried about my muse drying up or something. I donít know, itís just never occurred to me. I suppose it could happen, but at any given time I always feel that Iíve got a lot of things that I need to do quite desperately. Perhaps Iím being silly in assuming that this will always be the case. I have felt recently the need to expand some of the work across several mediums, introduce images and movement. Recently I started to paint again.
PSF: Have you ever considered using that on artwork for your CDís?
I co-design all the covers.
PSF: Including the Tone Casualties re-releases?
Well, especially the Tone Casualties re-releases, actually.
PSF: Those have beautiful artwork.
Weíre very pleased with the way they came out. I mean, I wasnít too pleased with the way they were printed, but yeah, I think that worked quite well. The restriction there being that they had to relate to one another so they were visibly a set. There had to be generic grid to the whole design, but Iím very interested in design generally, two-dimensional and three-dimensional design, architecture particularly is one of my passions, and Iím starting to have ideas now that involve three-dimensional design. The natural progression there is that the pieces perhaps be exploded into installations or sight specific explorations of sound. Thatís something Iím starting to develop.
PSF: Like multimedia?
PSF: I know youíve done a little bit of that before.
A little bit, but Iíve never been clear about how to unite all these different elements before, and now thatís starting to come together. The time is feeling right to develop these ideas, and thatís quite exciting.
PSF: There are songs of yours that I would call beautiful in an uplifting way, for example "In the Absence of Angels," which is one of my favorite all time songs by anyone from Regard: Music by Film, and "Sleep IIā" from Apart, but much of your music seems to me, and I donít mean this in a negative way, very emotionally detached - I kind of see it as not necessarily music that touches my soul, but kind of skims the surface of it.
That quality that youíre talking about is something which is conspicuous in most of my favorite music. I find a state of almost breathless suspension and unresolved emotional narrative extremely seductive, and itís something that I constantly return to in my own work. "In the Absence of Angels," just to take an example, is the final piece of music from a film that I scored, and so it was tremendously important that it emotionally resolve an extraordinarily complex characterís dilemma. It needed to have slightly spiritual overtones. There was an interesting conflict because the filmmaker who is a very good friend of mine had clear intentions in terms of a philosophical message for the character in question, but these intentions conflicted with my own personal philosophical positions. So what I had to try and do was create an ambiguity there which I found satisfying, which he would also find satisfying, and that I think is why thereís a sort of tension and resolve in that piece at the same time. He has a strong Christian agenda, and I have all sorts of problems with that, and so calling it "In the Absence of Angels" is a quiet dig at the circumstance in which the character found herself, but the filmmaker saw it quite differently. This was not an unspoken dilemma, itís something we talked about a lot, but it was a very satisfying way to resolve the film for both of us.
PSF: This is "The Tale of Ruby Rose?"
PSF: Throughout your work, you have songs that are less than a minute, and songs that are over 59 minutes. What makes you decide the length of a piece?
Well, people ask me this all the time. To me, the piece tells me how long it needs to be. I work in a way where a single sound can dictate all other characteristics for a piece. That first sound requires a context which best serves it. Each successive layer or event relates back to that first seed so pieces have very organic lives. The end comes when it needs to, and I have no inclination to force a piece into what would seem an unnatural shape to suit some external consideration about ideal duration. The thing is that anything which has a proper, if you like, internal lexicon, or a proper internal structure, it takes on itís own logic, and once it takes on itís own logic it pretty well determines its own shape and size and duration. Obviously when I was writing film music I was constrained by the structure of the film, so it was actually the filmís structure which would determine this, but when Iím not writing for film they just are as long as they are. Itís why when someone says to me, "I want you to write a piece thatís 10 minutes," I cant do that. I have to write 15 pieces and hope that one of them ends up being 10 minutes long.
PSF: Itís a very fascinating contrast when you have an album with 3 or 4 minute songs, and then a 14 or 15 minute song. It has a nice balance, I find.
The biggest trick with those albums has actually been programming the track order when the albumís finished. Thatís the point where I really have to make these variable durations have some kind of overall structural effect. I think its tremendously important that I spend time working on the overall shape of the album because I donít just think of an album as a collection of tracks. It may start life as a series of discrete pieces, but I have to address the fact that they are being presented as a whole to the listener. Otherwise itís just a bunch of stuff. I think an album must have an identity, which is why Iíll often omit tracks which were written at the same time because they don't actually make sense in the context of an album.
PSF: Thatís interesting. Well, your albums do have a very nice flow to them, I find.
I spend a lot of time trying to make sure that they do. Iíve actually gone in and paid to have a whole album re-mastered because after a couple of listens I realize itís just not flowing, it doesnít make sense. Iíll go back and re-order everything. I do think itís very important.
PSF: One thing Iím very curious about - you have some of the most interesting song titles Iíve ever heard, for example, "Sites of Rapture on the Lungs of Godā" "Eyeless and Naked," "Topology of a Phantom City." How do you come up with your song titles?
Well, Iím an avid reader, and I used to think, ok, Iím no writer, Iím no wordsmith, what I should do is take inspiration from people who are really good at it. So for the first few albums, I often used the titles of books which had a feeling to both the title and the book itself that I felt was sympathetic with the music. TOPOLOGY OF A PHANTOM CITY, for example, is the title of a book by Alain Robbe-Grillet, a French novelist, but after awhile I discovered there was a way of getting into the piece and finding the title within the music. If I spend enough time listening to the pieces just free associating, then something can come to me that really connects with the music in a way which, I hope, predisposes the listener to the piece. I think it was round about New Maps of Hell where I actually came up with some titles myself that I was really pleased with. Not all of them, I think about half. From then onwards, Iíve made all of them up myself.
PSF: Like Iím sure "Visions of a Sand Drinkerā" was not a novel...
No, all the titles on Apart came from the same narrative ideas I had for the music. Apart is a curious one because the whole album is basically about the photograph on the cover as a window, if you like, into a self-contained world. All the pieces were about that region that you glimpse through the picture. So the more I thought about that, little scenarios, little stories, came to occupy the space because it was a vacuum, and all of those titles are about what goes on in that world; quite ritualistic, dry, starlit desert with this beautiful eerie light. And the other thing - I have another 25 photographs in that series. Unfortunately we couldn't afford to have more of them on the cover. I guess ultimately I had a bit more information with which to fill out this world than the listener.
PSF: Was that album in any way kind of a breakthrough album for you, the first one on a major label? It seemed to get a lot more reviews.
Interestingly, I donít know if it was a commercial breakthrough. I think it was a breakthrough musically. Iím very very fond of that album. I think it was one album where I felt really comfortable, where it made complete sense as a self-contained object. Iím very concerned that all my work is part of an ongoing developing language, which is one of the reasons Iím so keen to insure the back catalogue is always available. There are some parts of the catalogue I feel are dependent on the albums that come before and after them, but that one does really stand on its own as a self-contained series of ideas.
PSF: And you also got the opportunity to make a double album that you didnít get a chance to with New Maps of Hell and The Rapture of Metals.
Well, that was meant to be a double album, and it was very galling that it wasnít, but the label just wouldnít do it. Virgin really has indulged me way beyond the call of duty. I mean, the idea that Virgin would release Second Site is, I think, quite bizarre.
PSF: The photograph on the front cover, a couple of photographs off Second Site, when I first saw them, and then read along with as it was being played, it seemed as it was a real place, a real series of events, but as I read it more it seemed it was too bizarre and too outlandish to be reality. How did you come up with that?
No, it is real. It is an extraordinarily real place. Itís an18th century observatory, one of five built by the Mogul Emperor Jai Singh the Second, or is it the third, I think itís the second, and theyíre all in Delhi, around Delhi. That oneís in Jaipiur. They are highly sophisticated astronomical observatories. The angles, sites and calibrations enable the user, over time, to establish accurate relationships between the earth and various heavenly bodies. Jai Singh used these "engines" to improve upon what were, at the time, the best available charts on earth made by the Portuguese. What is also interesting is the idea of a structure which has it's form dictated by something as remote and poetic as the movement of the heavens. A rare influence on the architectural form you must admit. Nearly all the lines in the text are actual physical descriptions of the physical site. There are a few lines which are more attempts to get into the head of the person who built the site, or someone whoís using the site, so there are a couple of lines that are overtly poetic.
PSF: Like, "Here is a room to divide the sun like an orange."
I guess that was me succumbing to the almost metaphysical element of the whole thing. The text is made up around first-hand accounts of the space. Iíve only ever seen photographs of the space. Iíve only ever read text about it. I havenít actually been there, and it was very important to me that because this project, the Site project of which this is only the first part, is all about memory and ideas of the ways in which spaces are actually created in the mind. There is a lot about the way memories are formed in a three-dimensional space. I could talk about this idea for hours. Itís probably not the right time to do it, but I was very keen in this instance to completely construct a sense of this place without ever having been there. That was quite important. The next one Iím going to do in this series, I will actually go there, and Iíll do very extensive documentation of the space itself.
PSF: Can you tell me what that place is?
There are several possibilities, but Iím inclined to keep this next one a secret till it gets a bit further down the track.
PSF: Thatís fascinating. Iíve heard the great pyramids, for example, are like a bible in stone, in that once we have evolved enough, weíll be able to read the information thatís written in there, in all kinds of sacred sites.
I think it goes beyond just information in text or in pictogram or whatever. I think there is actually information within the structure itself. Not hidden or arcane, but formed of the structure. We are just too concerned with verbal mediums to deal with it. I think itís information that we canít assess verbally. One of my pet hates is that we seem in our culture to regard discussions via text or words as the ultimate means of dialogue about any other medium or art form. I think this is insane. Frank Zappa (ED NOTE Ė allegedly) said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Over-quoted for the wrong reasons, but an acute observation none the less. I think most of the really significant discussions, dialogues and developments on particular generic languages, i.e.; dance, architecture, building, design, painting, whatever, donít take place in text. They do not take place in the region of critical discourse, which fundamentally needs to believe that all things have to be reduced to text in order to be dealt with intellectually. For me, the only consequential conversations that happen about music happen within music. The only real conversations about painting happen subsequent to the appearance of painting A. The ideas in painting A are tossed around, and expanded, and extrapolated to develop in paintings B, C and D, and they are to me the important dialogues. I think itís actually a great shame that we feel this need to reduce, and I do think itís a reduction in most cases, we feel this need to reduce everything to text, because text is a fantastically inadequate way of dealing with a lot of the ideas which are so important in these mediums. I think actually our senses generally have really been kept in check by this - the tyranny of text.
PSF: For myself, in terms of my spirituality, my spiritual life, for me itís a very experiential thing, and itís like you can talk about it all you want, and it can be very interesting, and very useful for the intellectual information of it, but really itís the experiential part that we want in life.
Definitely. Iím not advocating the dumping of all verbal discussion. What I am suggesting is that it should be put into an appropriate perspective, that it should not be regarded as the preeminent means of exploring any medium really other than text.
PSF: I love talking about music, and playing music for people. I love introducing it, and telling things about the musician, or the artist, or the genre, or whatever, but then I want to PLAY the music.
A conversation punctuated by actual music is an entirely different thing, but you canít have that in a magazine or a 300 page treatise. I mean strangely, these things usually come unaccompanied by what might be entirely appropriate, which is a CD of examples of what exactly is being discussed.
PSF: Which you could do on a radio show.
Radio I think is a hugely neglected area.
PSF: You have some albums that are just you playing solo, but on many of your albums you have other musicians working with you - do you have a preference of working alone, or working with others? Is there a particular piece that calls for something like that?
If Iím being honest, I do really prefer working alone, but Iím increasingly discovering that there are areas I want to explore that I simply canít without help. I never collaborate with people for the joy of working with someone else. I collaborate with people because I have to. You know, I donít hate it, but I really rather would work on my own. Iím a bit of a control freak.
PSF: Thatís honest. I tried creating a piece of music with somebody one time, and in one respect it was fun, but on the other it drove me completely insane because I wanted to have complete creative control over the whole thing, but I didnít know how.
When I do work with people, itís usually on the understanding that I have complete control of what happens to everything, and Iím fortunate in that there are a lot of really really good people who are happy to work with me that way.
PSF: Do you seek people out, or do people seek you out ever?
No, I think people donít seek me out anymore because they know that Iím not that interested in collaborating as such, thatís not something I do.
PSF: Except Fell was a collaboration.
Fell was a collaboration, yeah, although Fell was unusual in that Andrew (Hulme of O Yuki Conjugate) who I worked with had edited my last 6 albums. As we have worked together a lot, we have developed an almost intuitive communication. He knows what I want and can get to the heart of a problem quickly and precisely. This keeps the process fresh and spontaneous. Fell was like a live extraordinary mega editing session where he operated the editing computer, and the two of us just kind of, I donít know, itís a very hard process to explain, but thatís a unique sort of relationship. Iíve never worked with an editor like him, and I canít imagine there are too many around. We just happen to have a very good rapport, so I knew when we talked about doing Fell that it was going to work. Itís incredibly rare to get such a seamless line of communication going.
PSF: It seems to have a lot of a mixture of your work, and O Yuki Conjugate work. I can hear both elements of it very strongly in there.
The good thing about it is it is genuinely something other than my work or his. Itís more than the sum of its parts in a way. What happened was we both independently generated a huge amount of material which we brought to the editing session, and we then combined all of this material in an almost live way. We did it so fast, and very intuitively. It took two days to put together, which is not very long considering how many edits there are.
PSF: I think it would probably shock me, and a lot of people in terms of a lot of electronic music in how fast itís put together - things that sound like they took months to come up with.
I think again itís because we had a very strong working relationship before we did it, and you canít just choose to have that sort of rapport with someone. It either happens or it doesnít. Weíre just lucky that it did. The album grew out of the rapport rather than the other way around. I think if we hadnít had the rapport, we wouldnít have decided to do it.
PSF: You donít seem to play live very much. Do you enjoy playing live?
I didnít used to, but Iím really starting to enjoy it a lot. Weíre doing more and more live stuff. I had to find a way of doing it, I mean Iím not interested in trying to duplicate albums, and thatís not possible because my albums are very heavily post produced and fiddled with. The process of making them canít be emulated live. I feel like Iíve now kind of found several different ways of performing in a really satisfactory way, so itís quite exciting to do it now. Iím actually doing a lot of live playing. There are different configurations, playing live with Phantom City is one thing which is terribly exciting, but very hard to do because itís so expensive to get us all together.
PSF: Yeah, youíre all over the place.
Well, yeah, everyone lives in a different country. Just the airfare is prohibitive before you even play a note.
PSF: How is it playing with Bill Laswell?
Great Ė itís brilliant to play with Bill, I mean itís brilliant to play with everyone in Phantom City. The real luxury about Phantom City is that for someone like me who has no musical training and is a complete cretin as far as music theory goes, I canít play with someone whoís just a bit good, because theyíre gonna want to know things like what key weíre playing in, and what tempo it is, and where the time changes are, and I canít tell them because I donít have the language. All the players in Phantom City are so good, they donít even need to know. They can just lock into it without thinking. So someone like Bill, or Raoul (Bjorkenheim), or Dirk (Wachtelaer), they just know what you want. They just get there instantly, and itís the most extraordinary luxury to play with people like this. They instinctively hone in on what Iím trying to do.
PSF: Regarding the Site Anubis cd (by Phantom City), I read one review where it said, "this mad CD goes furiously everywhere - simultaneously." With that you had the different musicians create their parts, and then send them to you, and you put it together. Is this how it worked?
Yeah, more or less. All of the parts were created were in response to a basic track which I sent out, a backing track, like a rhythm track which had some elements of pitch incorporated into it, and say Bill, for example, just got that. He had very little to go on so he played bass over that. The drummer then got to drum over both the bass and my electric rhythm track, and from that point onwards people got different combinations of things. Some people would get three tracks, but not the other tracks, because we werenít able to mix the whole lot down every time we sent it off to the next contributor. So eventually we rounded up all the parts, and then I had to put them all together, and edit them, and chop them around and try to make some sense of them which was a nightmare, because Iíd never done it before. I really did get to a point where I was completely despairing. I thought, "God, Iím gonna have to give all the money back to the label because I donít have an album here, I just have a collection of really disconnected crappy sounding messy rubbish."
PSF: Well, you seem to pull it off. I love it, and it seems to get really very good reviews from everything Iíve read about it.
Itís had really good press. I went through hell trying to figure out how to put it together, and eventually I did put it together. I am really happy with the way it ended up, but it was a nightmare, mainly because I had never worked with so much material before. I hadnít been able to think it all the way through. We ran into some incredible technical problems. When we finally got all of the parts together from all these different people, I realized that we hadnít actually kept the time code on the A DATs concurrent across all of the different contributions, so beat 1, bar I, track 1, was a different time code number on every tape we received. I donít know if you understand the gravity of that, but it was a total fucking nightmare. We had to manually re-sync every single track, and there were 24 or 25 tracks, and try and figure out what the contributor was actually playing along to when they played this or that phrase. Now, quite often once I knew definitely what they were playing along to I might have moved it anyway. I did juggle a lot of the playing around, and reconstruct the tracks. In two instances I removed the original backing track to which everyone had been responding. In some cases, I edited the playing very heavily. I mean, thereís one track where I edited out one particular drum sound on the kit from an entire track, so every time the drummer hit that drum, I removed it digitally from the mix because I just didnít like that drum much.
PSF: Is this the way youíd like to make albums in the future, or is it something that was too much of a nightmare to go through again?
I think I could do it again, and it wouldít be so much of a nightmare. There were fundamental common sense things that I did wrong that caused huge grief that was entirely my fault. I now know. It was a very steep learning curve. It was a bit stressful, but it worked in the end, and Iíd love to do it again. Iím dying to do another Phantom City album. I really feel ready to do another one, and everyone involved is keen, but I want to do a studio one, and thereís no question of getting everyone together in the studio because itís too expensive, so itíll probably be done in a similar way to Site Anubis.
PSF: And Shiva Recoil (the other Phantom City release) was performed live at the Tampere Jazz Festival in Finland?
Yes, Tampere. That was completely different - everyone in the room at the same time. No rehearsals. No one had heard the backing track. It was just improvised live.
PSF: And itís called live/unlive?
Itís called live/unlive. I did that purely to acknowledge the fact that I had done some editing, and I fiddled with it a bit, although nowhere near as much as I had originally intended to. There were two parts, and I reversed the order of them. I just thought I should acknowledge that it was principally live, but there was also some post-production done.
PSF: Regarding the Site Anubis CD - are you familiar with the CD by Last Exit called Iron Path?
Oh yeah, very.
PSF: To me, thatís the closest, maybe itís just because of Bill Laswellís inclusion on it, thatís the closest Iíve heard to evoking the spirit of that, which is a fantastic album.
Thatís very interesting. Yeah, that was one of the albums which, when I was talking to Bill about the kind of sound I wanted, that I cited to him as the bass sound I was hoping for.
PSF: Yeah, and I mean Iíve never heard anyone play the bass quite like that. Itís like an all out attack!
Yeah, yeah, an extraordinary thing with Bill is he really hides his light. Heís very very prolific, but technically as a bass player heís just extraordinary. I think very few people fully realize just how good he is because heís not a flashy player. You really have to push him to cut loose. He wonít do that unless you ask him to, and Billís warm-ups, Billís finger exercise warm-ups have to be seen to be believed, and Iíve never seen him play like this. He doesnít tend to play this kind of thing live, but his finger warm-ups which he does quietly in a corner when no oneís watching is like the most incredible speed riffing youíve ever seen in your life. Heís an extremely good player and very intuitive, and he has a very diverse sound palette, as do all the players in that band really. I mean, Raoul. I saw Raoul playing live in a duet yesterday in London, and it was just awesome. I really think heís one of the greatest guitarists on earth, but again, you know, a very very humble approach to what is a quite awesome skill.
See Part Two of the Schütze interview
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