Engrossed & Entranced by wall-making [2022-08-02]
The walled noise scene, within the UK, is sadly rather small, but it’s certainly growing. And one of the key figures in this growth is Hertfordshire-based Tom Wilson- he’s behind the projects The Night Porter & Slowgurn, but also set up in December 2021 digital wall noise label Death To Dynamics- which to date has released nearing sixty titles. I tracked down Tom for an email interview- discussing his influences, his projects, and Death To Dynamics
M[m]: What are some of your earliest sonic memories, and do any of them relate to later enjoyment of walled noise/ harsh noise?
Tom: I've always enjoyed ambience. Sometimes you can enjoy how a record sounds as much as the music itself. As a kid, I would collect live bootlegs cassettes which had been reproduced within an inch of its life before I got my hands on it. They would always sound better to me. This was the 80s and 90s, so imagine how difficult it would have been to 'secretly' record a gig?! So, it felt exciting to get this secret recording of something - didn't matter that sometimes you could barely make out what was going on!
I'd also record off the radio a lot so back then-, so static sounds and imperfections were a huge part the listening experience. I suppose with my noise, I'm always trying to get back to that.
Non-musical memories? I grew up in London and I seem to remember everything as being super loud back then! One of my earliest memories is being on the tube. Back then they were pretty grim places as well as being absolutely defeating! Scary loud. I'm this little guy, sitting in this filthy metal carriage and the sound feels like its attacking the train from all sides. You can't help but feel slightly helpless. I get that same feeling with wall noise. It can be scary, but you just have to wait it out. When you finally come up air it can be incredibly satisfying.
M[m]: What was your first introduction to more extreme forms of sound, and is there anyone album/ and or track that was impactful on you creating noise yourself?
Tom: Hard to say cos I never was into what people would consider 'extreme music'. Nothing ever made me think "I want to do this". I went through a huge phase of getting everything on Mike Patton’s Ipecac label. Fantomas, The Locust, stuff like that. But really, it was more just weird stuff that I'd stumble across.
One of the most influential moments, musically speaking, was when I saw Stockhausen perform in London a few years before his death. There were like 200 people in a room with Stockhausen at a mixing desk in the middle of the audience. We sat through two forty-five minute pieces in total darkness, except for a shaft of light the size of penny that shone on a curtain in front. Before each performance, he'd explain how we should listen to music and what to observe while the sound swirls around you. It was one of the most bizarre things I'd ever witnessed but up to that point, I had never taken the time to listen to anything in that way. I'm still trying to make sense of it today. It was absolutely thrilling. Maybe not 'extreme' per-se but definitely out there!
M[m]: You mentioned that you weren’t really a fan of extreme sound before coming across HNW- so please talk about some of the genres/ artists you do enjoy?
Tom: It wasn’t that I didn't like it, I just didn't know how or where to access it. I've never really been part any scene -as much as I tried! Growing up in pre-internet times made things harder to discover. I was really into punk and metal, but I listened to literally everything. John Zorn made a huge impression when I was in my late teens - I love all his stuff. Around that time, I started getting attracted to obscure things, like library music. Once I get interested in a certain type of music it can very easily become an obsession. Truth is, I was always interested in noise because it seemed so bizarre. But I think in the end, HNW speaks the same language as drone or deep listening and once that idea clicked, I was all in.
M[m]: You started your wall noise project The Night porter in 2020- please talk about how/ why it came about?
Tom: The Night Porter was born out of the complete and utter desperation that came with the pandemic. When we first locked down in the UK, I had no idea what I was going do: a touring musician with suddenly zero work. So, for the first time, I just started writing and recording music just for me. It was mostly noise from my bass guitars and tonne of pedals that I'd hoarded through the years. I had zero concept for the project. I just wanted it to reflect where I was emotionally. This experiment soon turned into my first record, 'Cries From A Shallow Tin Mine’. I had ZERO idea of any harsh noise techniques- so the record is very different to what would eventually be The Night Porter. It was just me trying to make sense of things and it turned out being the most honest thing I'd ever done up to that point. For one reason or another, I decided to go for broke and put it out. After that I was hooked! If there is any mission statement to The Night Porter, it is making records in that similar vein to my first one: just trying to be as honest as I can with myself.
M[m]: I didn’t know you were a professional musician- what’s your instrument of choice, and do you think your training either helps or harms your creation of walled noise?
Tom: I'm a bass player. I can't say whether it helps or hinders but one influences the other. If anything, noise wall has made me a better musician because so much of it is about listening and patience. I don't know how popular it is to admit but I am 100% music orientated when it comes to noise because this music is provocative by its very nature. I just approach it as another form of composition.
Being a bassist, I always find myself gravitating to a lower register. I have a bad habit of rolling off the top end, but I’m getting better at it. I can say that when I first started, I was definitely struggling with the transition from more structured 'rules' based music to this completely free-form approach. I'm now less interested in tying up loose ends when it comes to compositions which is something I have learned from noise music. So no, I don't see it as in hinderance - giving yourself more avenues to explore can only be a good thing, I guess.
M[m]: Please discuss how you selected the project's name, and did you have any other names you were thinking of using?
Tom: At first, I wanted to use an alias because it would separate the music from the person. Sometimes, you don't need to listen to the music when you can look at the band poster! I didn't want that. To me, The Night Porter is like a character that wonders the corridors, going from room to room and reports what he sees/hears. That’s what has stayed in my mind. I think it was just 'Night Porter' at first, but I once was asked by a guy who's comp I'd submitted to "Which one was it? 'Night Porter' or 'The Night Porter'?" and I panicked and said: "The Night Porter" After that, it was too late to turn back. And besides, if it turned out to be shit, I could always blame it on that Night Porter guy and move on!
M[m]: What is your set-up for The Night Porter, has it changed/ developed since you started, and are you still using anything from when you first started?
Tom: It changes from session to session. I like the idea of tearing everything down and building it back up again. It would certainly be easier if I just had a set-up rig, but I'd much rather get my hands dirty. It makes it a bit more labour intensive which can be frustrating as there is no certainty that I'll get something every time. I know that each recording I put out, I had to work for. Gear wise? As I said, it started on old bass gear, and I just added to it: a shaker box here and synth thing there. I change the sound source quite a bit so it's hard to be married to one setup.
M[m]: What do you see as the key themes/ ideas behind your work with The Night Porter?
Tom: I touched on it before, but I tend to deal with memory and loneliness quite a bit. Not sure why. On one of my last albums ('For every Grave There Is A Feeding.For Every Tomb, There Is A Feast'), I quite literally made field recordings whenever I felt down, and they ended up being the sound source for the record. But yeah, I'd say solitude is a big one for me. When Iisten to noise (especially HNW), it is a moment that it personal to me. It isn't a shared experience.
M[m]: In late 2021 you started up a second project Slowgurn- please talk about how you feel the project varies from The night Porter, and do you have a different set-up for this project?
Tom: I find The Night Porter to be quite labour intensive and I go to a lot of places, emotionally speaking, during the making of it. I started SLOWGURN because I simply love to create noise wall. The idea was, simply, if I can find a sound that I like and can meditate with it for 20 minutes - I'd hit record. Simple as that. SLOWGURN is simply a document of the sounds I make. It's kind of from the Vomir school of thought. This is why there are no song titles. Just catalogue numbers. 00001,00002 and so on.
M[m]: Also, in late 2021 you set up your own label Death To Dynamics, which has so far released an impressive fifty-four releases. Please talk about why you set up the label and why did you decide to go down the purely digital route?
Tom: The online experimental/noise scene is an incredibly supportive place, but it can admittedly be quite intimidating. I wanted to change all that. It's about art at the end of the day. Art doesn't need gatekeepers or old scenesters telling you aren't good enough to play with the cool kids. If you only have 1 pedal and a microphone but have something, say, I want to hear it. I went digital-only because I simply wanted to be another person sharing a given project. I like the idea of keeping the wheels turning in that way. Activity in the scene is a good thing. Output is a good thing. I hear so much about over saturation in noise, but we don't hear people complaining that there are too many people painting, do we!?
M[m]: do you plan physical releases on the label in the future- if so in what format?
Tom: I think I'm going to focus mainly on Digital but there are some short run physical releases planned down the road. The Night Porter was included on Vomir tribute record that actually features a wall recorded by the man himself. That was first released by Misanthropic Agenda, and I think has since sold out. A 2nd run on Cdr will coming out on Death To Dynamics very soon.
M[m]: Of you so far released albums on the label- please select say five to ten of your favourite, and explain why they stand out/ our impactful?
Tom: I urge everyone to listen to everything cos they're all amazing but off the top of my head, some standouts have been
Zen Horseplay by H. Anthony Hildebrand & Jozef Kodrix
Diffraction by Morbit Beauty
Illwisher by Reaching Needles
Death Is A Gift by Vessel Of Flesh
Seven Angels, Regretful, Weeping, Choking Down Their Own Names by Yotzeret Sheydim
The records from Distraxi and Painsparrow
Too many! I highly suggest you checkout the recent comp we put out, 'Various Deaths Vol 1' . It’s about 5 hours of some the best HNW artists around - too many to pick out!
M[m]: Thanks for the list of your standout releases on the label- but are you able to outline what it is about them that stood out to you?
Tom: I really can't. It's such a personal thing - you just feel it. I'm certainly not looking to be satisfied by a particular sound. I have been revisiting a record that I put out by Morbid Beauty called MAHĀMERU. It's this harsh noise drone thing which lasts about an hour. Beautifully textured, masterful drone. Like the best wall or drone, it takes you places. I'm in awe of everything Paul puts out. Morbid Beauty continues to inspire me. I think it's one of the most popular Death To Dynamics releases.
M[m]: What’s lined up for the label and your projects shortly?
Tom: The Night Porter is always active. I have launched a membership option to my bandcamp page, so I have committed to putting out a lot more with that project. Death To Dynamics has just released the new record from my free noise duo, HIKIKOMORI. It's me and a drummer, Dean Valentine-Smith, who I have been touring with for some time. I'm really excited about it that one
M[m]: Please discuss your harsh noise duo HIKIKOMORI- how it came about, the meaning behind its name, and do you record your sessions live?
Tom: So, Hikikomori is the band I have with Dean Valentine Smith. He's the drummer of This Be The Verse - an industrial punk band over here in England. It came to us when we were touring together in another band. Basically, we were airing out our personal gripes and sharing sob stories about records that we had made that never saw the light of day due to non-musical factors - egos, label troubles, funding etc. So, we decided to task ourselves to record twice a year knowing that whatever we recorded in those sessions would see the light of day. No rehearsals, no prior writing just come in ready to give everything. We wanted to make the stakes high - if neither of us turned up, we'll look like arseholes! The first session (for our first EP, 'Found Footage' ) was him on drums and vocals and me on bass which turned out to be noise punk thing. Love that one but we knew we were still finding our voice. I think the sound we have today is way more representative of what we are trying to achieve as a band. It's about total freedom.
The recording is pretty mad. It's basically me and Dean facing each and jamming. After the first burst of excitement, we soon settle in and really start listening and feeding off each other. To me, it has more of a free jazz vibe than anything else. Dean records with his eyes closed which is wild! Our only hope for the band is total freedom ideas and expression. It's exhilarating recording with that band especially as we don't see as much of each other due to our touring schedules.
The name is a Japanese term for kids who go through acute social withdrawal. There is a whole community of young people in Japan that become recluses in their parents homes. It's bizarre and very sad but it felt fitting for two misfits like us!
M[m]: Have you ever thought about playing live with any of your projects, and if so any ideas on who you like the whole thing to look like?
Tom: To be honest, I haven't seen myself playing live until recently. I'm not sold on doing The Night Porter live but who knows? I'm playing with the idea taking HIKIKOMORI out. Think those shows could be wild!
M[m]: Do you see any other art as being an influence on your walled noise- be it film, physical art, or literature?
Tom: I'm slightly obsessed with religious art. I'm not religious in any way but I'm fascinated in the people or artists that have that kind of conviction in the supernatural. I'm drawn to the spirit in which art is created. That these people's art HAD to come out of them. Movies can be like that. My favourite movie is The Driller Killer. I can't lie and say that it's a 'great movie’ but you get a real sense that this movie meant everything to the people making it. I think I mentioned memories play a part in The Night Porter. I see memory as something very cinematic. It’s basically your ego arranging images in your head to give them meaning!
Then, of course, there are the old cliches: horror movies and HP Lovecraft books and paintings by Francis Bacon, Antoni Gaudi, Jackson Pollock, which I can't get enough of.
Thanks to Tom for his time and effort with the interview. Links- The Night Porter bandcamp , and Death To Dynamics bandcamp Roger Batty