Metal Bound [2015-06-19]Martin Kay is a Australian sound artists, field recordist, & sound designer- he’s more interesting figures presently working with-in the whole field recording/ sound art field at present. His 2014 release All Things Metal (on 3Leaves) stands as one of the more consistent & replayble release to appear from the field recording genre in sometime. Below is his first ever interview, which was carried out via email.
m[m]: What are some of your earliest sonic memories? And do you think any them inspired to capturing sound & creating sound art yourself?
MK My earliest sonic memories are of dancing around my living room as a toddler whilst my mum played Pink Floyd, Jean Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream. I was also exposed to a lot of film-sound growing up, and have particularly strong memories of the soundtrack to Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. The ocean is probably my strongest environmental sonic-memory, as I have always found the sound of distant surf and waves crashing on top of me whilst swimming to be a very strong and cathartic experience - probably the most constant and rich sonic encounter that I’ve had throughout my life. I’m not totally sure of the extent that these sounds have influenced my work, but pretty much I’ve always found myself mainly attracted to non-vocal based music that focuses on texture and sculpts some form of a landscape / environment, i.e., dark-side Drum & Bass, Toru Takemitsu’s orchestral scores and ambient and noise music, etc.
m[m]: When did you first decide to capture field recordings & how long was it before you started creating sound art? MK During the late 90’s I was experimenting with dark-side and industrial Drum & Bass production. At the time I couldn’t play any instruments and had no patience for synthesis, so I primarily sourced material by sampling vocal utterances, sound FX and atmospheric sounds from my favorite sci-fi, horror and anime movies, i.e., a breath or moan from a love scene, the bass of a helicopter crash, a gust of wind, etc; which I would sculpt and process to fit within a Drum & Bass framework.
My first real conscious appreciation of environmental sound occurred in 2002 whilst on a truck counting job in an industrial part of Melbourne. During the dead of night I witnessed an interstate cargo train pulling into the Appleton dockyards – which absolutely blew me away. This was one of the greatest things I had ever heard in my life, it entailed everything that I loved about dark-side and ethereal Drum & Bass, yet wasn’t composed by anyone – except I guess by me, the listener.
I went back to the same area in 2005 and spent a week capturing the sound of these trains from all different angles, and then produced a hyper real technoesque work based on the inherent rhythms and textures of the machine. This I suppose was the first time I had produced something that could be thought of as sound art. Over the next couple of years through the encouragement of my teacher Philip Samartzis, I started to delve deeper into the world of field recording and began to further consider the broader referential aspects of the sounds/objects/spaces I was recording; which ultimately led to producing more cinematic and soundscape based electroacoustic compositions.
m[m]: You mention that your early work in the 1990’s dark/ industrial Drum and Bass sound- did you ever release any of this work? And if so what do you see as your best work from that period? MK No, unfortunately not. Releasing music was much harder back then - and the DnB labels and listeners were very particular about style and production quality. Thankfully I find listeners in the experimental music world much more encouraging and relaxed when it comes to listening to new music.
m[m]: Still on the subject of Drum & Bass- are you still a fan of the genre now? And what albums/ tracks by others do you count as your favourite in this genre?
MK I don't listen to all that much rhythmic electronic music now days as I find the rigid rhythmic structures a little bit constricting at times. I stopped listening to Drum & Bass around 2003/2004 when an Australian group Pendulum were taking the scene by storm. I just couldn't connect to their music in any way, and as the whole scene was moving that way my passion just fizzled out. The artist and labels I respected most were DJ Trace, J Majik, Doc Scott, Droppin Science, No U turn, Metalheadz and The Moving Shadow. In many ways I would have to say Dom and Roland has been the most influential figure in my musical life; I feel he is a brilliant sonic architect and all of my own endeavours are indebted him in some way.
m[m]: Tell us a little bit about what equipment you use, how has it changed since you started, and is there any one piece of kit you still use today? MK My main artillery of air microphones consists of: MKH Sennheiser mics, and some Sanken lavaliere mics that I use to capture sounds in hard to reach places. I’m also increasingly using solid vibration microphones, including accelerometers, hydrophones and various contact mics.
Initially, I began recording with a stereo Rode NT4 microphone, which is a cardioid stereo condenser that records on a X/Y axis. For the first few years I was convinced that using cardioid and hyper-cardioid microphones was the best way to capture sound - which I think came from a sort of ‘sound-effects’ mentality, where individual sounds should be captured as ‘cleanly’ as possible so that they can be easily placed in a mix. These days though, I almost exclusively use omni-directional microphones (as I much prefer their sound), and I mainly capture sounds to be listened to on their own merit – without being mixed or processed.
I’m also finding myself more and more interested in stereo and quadraphonic recording that uses a combination of different microphones, i.e. A hydrophone for left channel and an air-microphone for the right etc,. The effect is really interesting; our brain creates a spatially coherent stereo image out of what is really just a composite of two different material sonic realities.
m[m]: I first became aware of your work with ‘Closing In’ the 2013 debut from your Mountain Black project( which saw you mixing together environmental field recordings, found sounds/other field recordings, and drone to electro morphed abstracted instrumentation)- how did this project come about? MK During the time of Closing In I was studying sound-design under Shinjuku Thief, AKA., Darrin Verhangen, and became inspired to apply the composition techniques and logic of the soundtrack into my own electroacoustic composition. I was very much interested in the notion of diegetic and non-diegetic space in the soundtrack, and how such spaces could be evoked when divorced from any visual context or concrete narrative. So the album was really an experiment in applying particular compositional devices such as hard cuts, cross dissolves, and reoccurring sonic motifs of the film soundtrack to a variety of spaces, objects and situations that I had recorded.
m[m]: ‘Closing In’ had often a very cinematic feeling of dread & unsettlement- did you have images or any kind of script in mind when you were creating the album?
MK I didn’t have any script in mind - although each track did very much reflect a different stage in my life over the period of creating the work, and was very much tied to a specific space that I occupied during these stages. For instance, ’Diegetic’ was recorded on my honeymoon - which was a happy time for me; whereas non-diegetic happened during a time of psychological crisis. Several people and reviewers commented on the darkness and foreboding feel of the album, but in actual fact I really wasn’t thinking about this. I’ve pretty much always been attracted to such themes in visual-art, music and film. My first ever short story in grade 2 was based on a series of dreams I had about Pennywise the killer clown from IT. For me darkness has always symbolised a way of combating negative forces throughout my life.
m[m]: Have you any plans to do another Mountain Black releases?
MK No plans as yet; although I’m sure it will happen someday. After Closing In I began to question the point of composition and the mixing and processing of my recordings. To some degree it just felt I was juggling and sculpting sounds for the sake of craft, and my compositional choices were falling into a cliché ‘experimental’ music genre. So over these last few years I’ve stripped my approach right back and have just been focusing on the process of recording, as well as searching for meaning in the sounds I record. After I go through this stage I think I will reevaluate the value of mixing field-recordings and instrumental/electronic sounds together and then find an instrumentalist to collaborate with for a new Mountain Black project.
m[m]: You’ve worked on a few films as a sound recordist/ designer, covering a fairly wide range of subjects- such as a Polish thriller called Acts of God, & Australian trans-gender school teacher Documentary T Is for Teacher. How do you select a project to work on? And have you any other film work lined up?
MK I don’t really choose the projects I work on nor actively seek anything out. Most of the work I do comes directly through friends and sometimes recommendations – pretty much if they pay I will work on anything. Occasionally I work for free or for a reduced rate, but only if the directors/producers leave the creative process up to me; once they start to dictate the composition, then I see my role as a designer/tradesman servicing other peoples ideas. The next big project I have lined up is a film by Director Blake Borcich – who is one of the few directors/producers that challenges/encourages me to produce soundtracks that truly reflect the characters hidden feelings and circumstances as – opposed to just pouring syrup over drama. Blake’s next film will be a celebration and exploration into the work of his recently deceased father, Mauro; who worked in and managed several factories in Melbourne for several decades. Blake stressed that he wants the soundtrack to be an integral part of the film that gives justice to Mauro’s experiences and perspective of industrious factory life.
m[m] :Your most recent work is All Things Metal- which sees you bringing together recordings made in & around metal objects. Tell us a little bit about how/when the idea for the project came about? MK All things metal was my first attempt at composing an album of straight field recordings. After a few years of just collecting and cataloguing environmental sounds, I started to feel increasingly disengaged with my recordings; I found that during the recording process, the sounds I was capturing in the field sounded amazing, but when I later played it back in the studio they felt slightly shallow and lacked any deep substance, outside of their somewhat novel musicality. So around 2013; in an attempt to discover more meaning in my work, I went and visited two Sound artists: Eric La Casa and Toshiya Tsunoda; whose work I felt to be highly personal and idiosyncratic in the world of field-recording. These guys both stressed the importance of considering the history and relationships between the recordist and the sounds that one captures, and Eric in particular encouraged me to take my recordings a step further and compose an album instead of simply cataloguing them online. When I got back to Australia I delved in to the archives of my recordings and realised that a constant theme of my work was capturing warped and abstracted environments through the rich resonant qualities of metal.
m[m]:The recordings on All Things Metal are selected from over a five year period from all over the world- how did you go about select what sounds to recording & did you go to specific sites to capture sounds?, or was it more down to be in a place & finding a rewarding sound that you wanted to capture? MK Since finishing my degree I have been on a sort of sound-recording quest to learn what the world sounds like through microphones, and to develop my technical expertise and technique. In 2011 I was lucky enough to get a grant to travel to Armenia for a 3 month residency, and then later to visit Japan to research and do some workshops with Tsunoda. So it is these places plus my home city of Melbourne that my archives are based. I usually don’t go to specific sites to capture sound. But rather experience a particular environment, see what grabs my attention, then delve deeper in and unravel the space through recording.
m[m]: What are you working on next? MK I’ve recently just finished an album made up of recordings captured from residential courtyards, which should be released on Herbal International later this year. I have also been recording the sounds of football crowds for the last four years, and am now in the process of composing an album that charts the flow of the crowds energy dissipating from the field to the areas surrounding the stadium – similar to the concentric ripples of energy that occur after throwing a stone into a pond. I am also working on composition based on a residential area in Seoul which I have been visiting for the last decade. It will involve recreating a sound-walk from my wife’s grandmother’s house to her parents’ place, using recordings captured from locations that would normally be impossible for the human ear to experience.
m[m]:You mention a up-coming album of residential courtyards- what triggered the idea for this release? MK In recent years I have found listening to human activity in close proximity to be a very visceral, sensual and heart-warming experience, and have been increasingly interested in using field recording to capture a range of different social dynamics. During my time in Paris one of the first things that struck me sound-wise was the exquisite and intimate symphony of domestic activity, such as cutlery scraping against porcelain, people taking a shower, laughter, mothers soothing babies etc; which I could hear in great detail from my apartment window. Due to the lack of air-conditioners and the enclosed architectural style of the apartments, the external sounds of traffic are drastically muted and one can really appreciate these delicate and sounds of apartment life in an intimate manner - which is very uncommon to experience in Australia. When I mentioned this to Eric he proposed that we go to a number of courtyards in and around northern Paris. After visiting several different apartments I began to appreciate the unique and individual sonic characteristics that each space possessed; even though the general activity within these places was the same, the architecture, acoustics and residents gave each courtyard its own unique personality and sonic fingerprint. So, once I got back to Australia I set about compiling an album that celebrates the similar domestic sounds and contrasting spatial characteristics through the context of private/semi private-space, architecture, and acoustics
Thanks to Martin for his time & effort with the interview. All Things Metal can be purchased directly from 3Leaves here, and Martin’s webpage can be found here.
Picture credits: main menu pic by Eric La Casa, pic 2 by by Philip Bateman, pic 3 by Martin Kay, pic 4 by Heesun Chio.