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Surreal And Tribal 'Walls' [2011-03-18]

Ghost is a one man French based HNW project that started releasing progressive and original walled noise in early 2011. Ghost also runs the excellent and progressive French CDR based HNW label Slow death records. He was kind enough to agree to take part in a email interview

m[m]What first attracted you to extreme and experimental music,and in particular HNW?                                                                                                                     

Ghost My mother had some musique concrète records and she used to play them for me when I was a kid, I think that was my first encounter with experimental music in the broad sense. I especially remember the records of Pierre Henry, but I know I also heard some Edgar Varèse and John Cage. Later on in life I had a girlfriend who was into Sonic Youth, especially the Experimental Jet Set Trash & No Stars album and I loved the noisier parts they included in their songs. From there I met with Hijokaidan's music and that's what really got me into noise per se, especially Junko's screaming vocals. It's funny because I realize it's three women who gradually got me into this thing and I always wonder why there are not more women involved in this music.

Ghost As for HNW, the best record store in Paris for unusual music is called Bimbo Tower and it's near Bastille. I was looking for more noise and found this cdr or cassette by French musician Vomir. I don't remember exactly, but it said: 'No dynamics, no ideas, no entertainment, no change no development, no remorse' on the cover. I mean, can you imagine not wanting to check this out when you're into experimental music ? I was hooked on the first listen. It was perfect: the only thing that mattered was the texture of the sound and how it affects your brain. Nothing moves, but your brain has to imagine things are moving so it creates tiny movements and melodies out of the little cracks in the wall. This process was and is still what drew me to HNW.

m[m]When and why did you form the Ghost project & what does the name mean to you?                                                                                                                                        

Ghost  My first pseudonym was Ghost Youth, maybe five years ago, but now at 32 I feel I'm a grown-up Ghost ! The name reflects my feelings of not been totally there, as in being only able to grasp some elements of reality, just as a ghost would do. A ghost can interact with its environment but there are always some limits, for example it can see and feel but usually it can't touch things. I often feel limited in that way too. I set up the Ghost project to make music that corresponds to what I was telling you, music that lets the brain do most of the working, and maybe when you're in that state of mind while listening to my music you'll feel like a ghost too.


m[m]What was you work like when you used the name Ghost Youth? And was it still HNW based?

Ghost My work under the name Ghost Youth was based upon the distortion on popular music genres. I tried to extend the production techniques of popular music genres. I proceeded by exagerating the genre's typical production techniques to expose it as an instrument in and of itself. I only did net-releases under that name. The first one, Untitled (Rolax Records), dealt with instrumental hip-hop, the second one, The Hunter Is A Lonely Heart, used reggae dub as a basis and the last one, Smoke Screen, was a folk song (those last two records are on the Domistiku label). Each time the original format is stretched over 20 minutes and deconstructed with effects, silences and noise. I have not done this in a long time I'd like to do another Ghost Youth record sometime based on hardcore techno music.


m[m] In early 2011 you set up your own label Slow Death records, which of writing has released ten releases since the start of the year. What made you decide to set up a label and what made you settle on the labels distinctive red paper sleeves?                                                            

Ghost  I decided to make my own label after various experiences with labels. Over the years I have worked with many different labels. Physical copies are great, but I don't play live very often so I had my artist copies shelved for a long time without really being able to sell or trade them. I also did lots of internet releases, but I'm still very much attached to the physical format. I love records. For my first very own label I had everything professionally made. It was very expensive and didn't make much sense if you didn't get lots of copies made. Once again I found myself with tons of unsold records laying around my house. I thought the next project I’d set up would be entirely do-it-yourself, so I can make as many releases as I want and make just the quantity I need for potential listeners. When I got into HNW it was clearly the best solution for me, as I saw most other people sold very limited quantities and were very productive. I settled on the red paper because it gives everything an eerie aspect. Also, blood is very important in Haitian voodoo which is very interesting to me.


m[m]You mention that you released works on other labels- what are theses and what name did they com under?                                                                                          

Ghost Apart from the Ghost Youth ones, I used to release extremely minimalistic music under my real name, Julien Skrobek. There is a bunch of records and net-releases under my name that deal with small sounds and long silences. I am extremely influenced by the silent music of Taku Sugimoto and Radu Malfatti because it is so extreme. Just as HNW, this silent music does something to your brain: the sounds open up temporal windows in your brain, and because of the long pauses the next sound is coloured by the memory of the previous one. It is a music in which the brain of the listener plays an important part too. You can have a focused or fleeting listening experience, but in both cases it is your brain which 'invents' or reconstructs the melodies or rhythm in the music, not the composer. I think extremely silent and extremely noisy music achieve the same thing at the end of the day.

m[m]Your first release on the label was your self titled debut album under the Ghost banner- tell us a bit about over what period of time this debut was recorded and was there any over running concept behind the album?                                                                      

Ghost I started recording for that record last summer. It was my debut and I wasn't sure where I was going so I recorded tons of music for that album before I could chose the four tracks that were coherent with my idea of HNW. It was a very difficult and slow process to go through all the walls I had recorded, maybe fifty, and select only four that would make up an album. The concept was already what it is for all Ghost releases, to create a kind of voodoo HNW, I see HNW as a tribal music and that's what I wanted to carry through the music. Tribal music is very repetitive and it works on the brain of the audience. What matters is not the music in itself but how it will affect the listeners, put them in a certain state where they are more receptive to spirits. I find this fascinating. When you get into HNW you have to give up your resistances and let the spirit in also, let it get into your brain and make you contemplate the perhaps imaginary changes in the sound. Everything becomes extremely important, just as a slight change in the drumming in the Rara music in Haïti is very important.


m[m] Alot of the Ghost’s material has a very distinctive African sound running through it & a lot of the label artwork features very African looking figures in often quite surreal set-ups- where does this interest come from?                                                                      

Ghost It's not so much Africa in itself but more African culture through the prysm of islands that fascinates me. I have always been fascinated by islands: Jamaica, Trinidad, Haïti, Guadeloupe, Martinique... I listen to a lot of island music, which must not be very common in the HNW scene I guess. I think this interest stems from my spending most of my holidays as a kid on a small island called Oléron when I was a kid. I was on an island and I dreamt of other islands, how the people lived there. Gradually, I became aware of the distortion of African culture on some of those islands I dreamt of, because of slavery. I found it extremely interesting to see the various forms African culture took to survive on those tiny islands, like Yoruba in Cuba or Voodoo in Haïti. I guess I'm interested in distortion in all senses of the term ! Islands are also interested because it means people are isolated from the rest of the world and they often have to create their own way of life and their own culture out of what was transmitted to them. This is a feeling I can relate to.


m[m]How often do you make noise & how much of it lands up been released?           

Ghost I try to make walls everyday. Out of twenty walls, maybe I'll keep five for a release, so that makes twenty-five percent. However, I think I'm going to slow down because I find I need more time to reflect on what I've done. I'm going to try for a specific sound I have in mind and work on that for as long as it takes instead of recording a lot and then discarding everything that doesn't fit. Maybe I'll have less surprises that way, but it's just an experiment.


m[m] Who designs and draws the labels very distinctive cover artwork which mixs together African, Haitian tribal art, gritty urbanism and surrealism?                                                                

Ghost I take all my covers from books about Voodoo and African arts. I have a couple of those at home and when I feel a picture would make a good record cover, I just go and scan it. Sometimes a picture can be great in itself but not look so good on red paper though... The only record cover which wasn't done that way was for the Stürmgeschutz 'We Destroy' album because he already had an illustration he wanted to use and I loved it, I thought it looked fantastic on red paper ! I'm sorry but I'm not going to tell you the name of the books because I never reveal my sources and I don't want this interview to incriminate me !


m[m] As your interested in the folklore and culture of the islands, does this interest extend to the origin of the Zombie myths and have you have thought of doing a recording themed around this?                                                                                              

Ghost I'm very interested in Zombies in general. There are many different zombies. In Guadeloupe and Martinique there is a kind of Zombie called Dorlis, who is a kind of Zombie Don Juan. He is known to be able to walk into the house of women and seduce them when they are asleep. The only way to prevent a Dorlis who has set his mind on you to come into your house at night is to put your panties the other way round (upside down ?) when you get into bed. I love that story. I might do an album about Dorlis.


m[m]As your interested in Voodoo and the darker side of island folklore- do you also enjoy horror movies & horror fiction? And if so who are some of your favourite writers/movies?                                                                                                             

Ghost  I love horror and fantastic movies. My favorite movies are Cure, Kaïro and Reincarnation by Kyoshi Kurosawa and everything by Dario Argento, especially Phenomena. I also love a 3rd category movies from Hong Kong such as Ebola Syndrome and Daughter Of Darkness. I love how they show the most horrible things with a tint of humor and social criticism. However I believe things are changing in Hong-Kong now that it is Chinese again and they don't produce movies like these anymore because of censorship.


m[m]The other project your linked to on the Slow death label is The Sandman Wears a Mask – which finds you collaborating with Alois Richter. How did this project come about?                                                                                                                    

Ghost Alois Richter is a very dear friend of mine who has been making music by himself for a long time. He is a very secretive person who never pushed to get anything of his released. He has an underwater microphone and uses it to get the field recordings we use for the project. I take care of the walls of noise and he takes care of the field recordings. I had to insist a bit to make him release some music ! I told him either you collaborated with me either you have to lend me your microphone, and I knew he would never do the latter.


m[m]One of the main focus of the The Sandman Wears a Mask is dream related matter- what got you interested in the dream worlds & what’s the most freaky and memorable dream you recall?                                                                                       

Ghost What got me interested in dreams is Freud's book about the interpretation of dreams. I'm very interested in psychoanalysis and dreams offer a very fertile field of investigation about the condensations of meanings your subconscious can sometimes operate. I'm going to tell you the last dream I recall perfectly. It's probably sexual: I'm in bed with a wolf and I'm supposed to crucify it. I have a hammer and some nails, but of course the wolf moves a lot and bites my hands very bad.


m[m]Quite a lot of your work finds you utilizing field recordings that you often set under your HNW textures- where do you source these recordings from?                                   

Ghost Most of those field recordings are made with water. There is very little processing of sound once the recording is done. Sometimes I just use a normal microphone and record water flowing. I love using water because it is already a natural wall, I mean we are used to listening to water moving, the waves and so on. It offers very little variations but it seems to do something to the brain that makes it pay attention to the slight variations in sound, just like HNW in general.


m[m]Can you tell us a bit about your set-up and how does it vary from project to project?                                                                                                                                           

Ghost My set-up has changed quite a bit recently. At the beginning I relied heavily on the computer to process radio static recordings to create my walls, but I was not satisfied with this method anymore. I love the results, but it makes me spend hours in front of a computer screen and I feel I lose all spontaneousness. Plus it didn't allow me to play live. My new set-up is entirely hardware: flower electronics jealous heart noise generator (it's a patchable mini analogue synthesizer); Zvex fuzz box, DOD death metal, Boss octaver and reverb pedals. Procession is the first album I recorded entirely with my new set-up.

m[m]The later slow death release have seen you adding in a voodoo doll logo to the packaging- what trigged this interest in voodoo?                                                                    

Ghost That voodoo doll was drawn by my friend Carlota Thevenin. You should check out the blog to see it in colours ! I love my new logo. I'm interested in voodoo because it relies on the idea of voluntarily letting somebody else invade your mind and take control in order to heal you. I make a connection there with psychoanalysis. You must forget yourself and give up your resistances. Once someone is possessed, he speaks in tongues, or free associations, which is also the basis of the analysis. When the spirit leaves, everything becomes much clearer, the principle of reality is restored because the disciple of voodoo has been allowed to come back to a state of magic realizations, just like a new born child who believes in magic because all his needs are fulfilled. It's like a second birth. Having been through that state again, he is ready to face reality, with its discontents, because he knows the magic is gone but it can come back. His symptoms are gone, he is cured because he has been in contact with a spirit, or subconscious, which takes him back to a stage where every desire was fulfilled by magic, as in the womb. I find it fascinating how the Voodoo tradition operates.

m[m]Your last release under the Ghost banner featured a picture of a klu klux klan member on the front- this is a rather controversial thing to have on the cover of the album. What albums concept and why the need for the klu klux klan figure?                                                                                                                                         

Ghost Actually it is not a KKK member but a Haïtian man wearing a traditional white robe during the carnival. They are called 'Mo' (dead in creole) or Zombi and they walk in line. I'm not at all interested in the kind of provocative imagery used in many noise projects. I would never use a nazi or a KKK picture because I think other situations in life can be much more deranging than those noise clichés. It doesn't bother me when I buy records and I'm not militant about it, but I wouldn't want to use this kind of imagery myself because I'm not really fascinated by destructive figures. I'm much more interested in extreme folk experiences such as ceremonies or processions. To imagine that every year a people dress in white to call back the spirit of the dead during carnival is much more 'shocking' or 'controversial' to me. It raises questions such as: what is the place of the dead in our societies ? How do we somehow make them stay with us when they are gone ?


m[m]Have you played live with any of your projects thus far & if not is it something you’d like to do?                                                                                                        

Ghost I have played live, but not a lot. I'm very excited about playing at the Harsh Noise Wall festival here in France on April 23rd. I'm going to have projections of a movie by Maya Deren about Haïti in the background while I will be making my wall. This will be the first time I'm able to use visuals in a live situation (if everything works alright)

m[m]You mention your set at the upcoming French HNW set- will you be wearing a mask or disguise for this and what else can people expect from your set?                            

Ghost I won't be wearing anything special, just my usual clothes, no mask or anything, although now that you say it a mask would be a great idea. However, I don't have any tribal masks and just putting a white mask over my head would feel like a rip-off of Vomir's famous plastic bag ! I want people to look at the movie while I'm playing. What I will try to do is adjust my wall to the images, which is something I don't usually do, changing my wall. So it will probably be less static than what you can hear on record. I will also aim for a very percussive sound, well, my idea of percussive within the HNW genre anyway ! Nothing as obvious as tribal drums samples, but some bass in the mix, definitely


m[m]What’s next out from Ghost, The Sandman Wears a Mask and Slow Death records?                                                                                                                                         

Ghost I'm always working on new music for the Ghost project. The Sandman Wears A Mask project is a bit more problematic because I have to get Alois Richter to work and we must agree together on what to release, which is not an easy thing to do. However, I'm very excited about the next release on Slow Death records, it's called Chain by Zenith, two long walls of static noise derived from a VCR.


Thanks to Ghost for his time, effort and pictures for the interview. Slow Deaths Blog can be found here. 

Roger Batty
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