Freeze Magazine January 2008: Sound of the Future
Interviewer: What is The Future Sound of London for the electronic music history and what is it for you personally?
Gaz Cobain: For me FSOL has been a filter for the whole history of music and by sampling I have listened to thousands of hours of music I wouldn't have necessarily heard without this technology. Therefore FSOL has come to represent a 'collage regurgitation' of sound encompassing many contradictory elements from the past and present and NOT specifically belonging to a genre. I feel unable to comment on the future sound of electronic music because I don't listen exclusively to electronic music, but prefer to immerse myself in music that hybridises and revolutionises any idea of genre. I tend not to like music that fits neatly into any genre but can always find music that defies categorisation. Actually, I said the same thing in 1991, that maybe the future sound was to be open to great experimental sound everywhere - there is so much of it whether it be jazz / classical / indie / psych rock.
It seems more than ever that we need pioneers to experiment with the possibilities of sound/spirituality and communication in this modern onslaught of technological 'progress'. I use the word 'progress' because I have come to believe that not all technology is 'progressive' for society. Electronic music is at an interesting crossroads 'can it say something without being passive?' I am obsessed with message in music these days 'what is it trying to say?' Sometimes electronic music can be an avoidance of any attempt to communicate but merely a celebration of technological prowess.
Don't misunderstand me - sometimes message can be subliminal and sometimes 'ego personality' can interfere with deeper emotional communication so I guess I've arrived at my point - the Future Sound of London is a sound of struggle for balance within heart / mind / light / dark / technology / spirituality / male / female / rhythmic / arhythmic / harmony / dissonance - somewhere in there is the answer - The Future Sound of London is the sound of Brian and I struggling for audio happiness / deeper harmony - struggling to find balance within our similiarities and our many differences both with each other and within ourselves. We still haven't found it but are obsessed with the possibility.
Interviewer: How it feels to be Legends in these 'Fake years' we live nowadays [our personal opinion]... FSOL = Legends and Innovators...
Gaz Cobain: Well thank you... I am proud of the music we've made over the last 20 years... I am proud of our determination and our strength to continue our experimentation even when things have become 'successful' and comfortable our almost restless need to search beyond this point has pushed us on again. In this way I can see that our music has value for others who have that need to search BEYOND the ordinary and beyond what is immediately seen and felt and HEARD. Having said that I also think we are distinctly average because our music could be more expressive in so many ways - more genuine and brave. It has inavertently become a career and sometimes I mourn this - maybe the music I yearn to make is only possible when there is no motive but the creativity itself?
In terms of 'fakes' - everyone has access to releasing music these days which has led to a deluge of music. Genuine music has an element of fake in it too - fake is an aspect of genuine. Yes, a lot is very average in terms of higher communication, but then I hate the control of music by corporate powers so of course I welcome this 'digital revolution' and yearn for revolutionary music to be the result of this new freedom. The corporate nature of record companies / shops has strangled more progressive music so in positive moments I like to imagine this is freedom from accountants who control the release of music to the public - but then on darker days it seems that music has lost its purpose - 'never before have so many said so little to so many people' kind of thing.
Interviewer: Tell us how the FSOL ever made their own first live gig and how everything started...
Gaz Cobain: How we started - Manchester University, 1985. Brian was the first person I'd ever met who'd played me their music and it was good enough to be released. He was making music that was up there with Cabaret Voltaire and all these other bands, and to me that music was an exciting mystery. I was just an indie kid and Brian was sequencing, sampling and so on. Everyone knew he was going somewhere and I wanted to be part of it.
We had done a few things together but Brian went off and did "Stakker Humanoid" pretty much by himself and it all exploded for him. We kept in touch and when he got asked to do a full studio album I helped him out. By that time I'd realised he wasn't totally in control of the technology and I'd got my own studio, taught myself how to use everything and was like, 'these are my tunes and I don't need you to do my electronic work anymore!'
Stakker then ran aground and I was writing some bloody good music so Brian came back to me and we began working properly together. I brought all my gear up to Brian's, but we had a break in. Half of it went and it wasn't insured. So at that point we became a band. We just thought 'We can't afford to work separately now'.
Interviewer: You only play via ISDN system through your home and never appear as real live why that's happening?
Gaz Cobain: NOT true as The Amorphous Androgynous we have played many live gigs with a supergroup of seven musicians over the last ten years. But yes, correct FSOL was always intended to be a broadcast system rather than a 'band' so FSOL instead was devised to utilise ULTRAMEDIA to create a world beyond the personality or EGO of its creators. Trying to find something beyond the notion of a band with broadcasting / art / film / writing and sound. It seems this mandate is even more relevant now with the technological revolution that has accelerated into the new millennium. This is why we are motivated towards a new FSOL album for the first time in ten years. Our past ideas seem to have caught up with us!!
Journalists didn't understand it actually at the time. They wanted to come and watch us. We said, fuck off, listen to the broadcasts. Because we've just found a new mechanism for connecting to people, and it you can't find a way to write about it then it's you or your mechanism that's got the problem. In the future you might find it difficult to write about the digital revolution because the notion of performance will change.
Brian Dougans: The sight of two guys bobbing their heads behind a mountain of keyboards and gear doesn't make a live performance. In terms of electronic artists, what's important is the music that's coming out of the speakers and the visuals and what's visual about us on stage? Why not be 20 foot tall on screen, filtering through some visual noise and still interacting with the audience?
Interviewer: You have many many alter egos as artists... why is that... multi personal interdimensional personalities?
Gaz Cobain: Trying to escape - trying to find what lies beyond expectation. There is the feeling that we still haven't found the real 'sound evolution' and so new names can be very liberating.
Some FSOL vans are very protective about what FSOL means and stands for so sometimes it's very important for us to be free from this.
Brian Dougans: We get bored really quickly so why not be ambient electronica one day, cosmic psych rock another day, avant garde experimentalists then next?
Interviewer: Amorphous project was something unbelievable for psychedelic electronic people... are you into psychedelic music in general?
Gaz Cobain: Yes, but not in an archivist's definition of the word. Psychedelic for me means freedom and liberation. I hear this liberation in surprising music and again NOT maybe in the genres typically called 'psychedelic'. But yes, in the last ten years I have been very turned on by a lot of the expression of the late 60s, there was a genuine urge for a new way of living, a liberation fusing eastern mysticism / sexual liberation / drug liberation / spiritual revolution. These themes have become vital themes in my life so I don't feel any revisionism in this. I don't feel that I'm looking backwards, it's not RETRO but more like a parallel time. History has repeated itself in so many ways and now the people will want to find a similar sense of freedom NOW also.
The corporately aligned governments and vested religious orders and pharmaceutical peddlers of toxic medicine have lost our trust and now we collectively have to wake up. Technology is also being used negatively to enslave and control us so I have undergone a need to balance the technological search with a spiritual search in my music. A quest for a new balance. This also involved a liberation in terms of the influences in our music.
We didn't want to continue the rather stupid game of electronic versus rock that engulfs a lot of electronic producers. We love a lot of classic rock and funk and easy listening and eastern ragas so wanted to incorporate this. We thus reinvented the Amorphous moniker to be able to achieve this.
We are releasing a couple of 'DJ Mix' albums this year (I use the word DJ very loosely since I don't accept the limitation of the definition of DJ - for me it's an opportunity to collage and segue the whole history of music in hopefully a startling and entertaining way). The first one will be by the Amorphous Androgynous and will encapsulate this hard to define new psychedelia. The second one will be by FSOL.
Interviewer: What is the philosophy of FSOL as musicians and as real persons?
Gaz Cobain: Experimentation to find self, to find soul, to find truth which when found unifies all living things and which renders speech unnecessary because it occurs on an unquantifiable level which resonates and fuses heart mind and soul into timelessness. On a simple level it feels good without thinking or analysing - it bypasses the brain - kind of like meditation.
Interviewer: Have you ever been in Greece?
Gaz Cobain: Yes several times actually. Athens and the islands. Funny enough "Papua New Guinea" uses a sample of Dead Can Dance which I took from a tape which a Greek student gave to my girlfriend at the time (in 1989) who was teaching English in Athens. He was expressing his love for my girlfriend and had lovingly assembled his favourite songs on a tape for her. It ended up being played and then sampled by me - so that track would never have been written without the contribution of your country and a lovesick Greek student!! Ha Ha.
Interviewer: Tell us more about the CD you gave as a great gift to the readers of the magazine!!! Speak track by track... step by step...
Gaz Cobain: Well, simply put, the CD gives you a flavour of what's available at FSOLDigital. The choices were mostly down to what fitted a 40 minute journey the best.
The Archive tracks are pretty self-explanatory - we have released FSOL Archives 1-4 this last year. A Gigantic Globular Burst of Anti-Static was a surround installation piece that we did for the Kinetica museum in London. The UK's first electronic / interactive / Kinetic museum. At the moment it's only available in stereo. Hopefully we'll find a way to get the surround version out there as the experience is so much more. We wrote it in a cinema with a full surround setup and I would love everyone to experience that!!
The Peppermint Tree & Other Seeds original started out as an Amorphous Androgynous archive album. However, we found that there was still a really good journey to the tracks and as a lot of the multitracks were still available we decided to polish some things up a bit. So we had a play with some of the mixes and also created some new joining pieces. This is due early this year.
Polemical and Heads of Agreement grew out of Brian's experiments. He's been making and adapting synths in the last couple of years.
By Any Other Name resulted from the discovery of a box of DATs in the darkest corner of the attic.
Interviewer: So is everything going digital these days? The real CDS and VINYLS are dead?
Gaz Cobain: I hope not, I still love physical tactile beauty and yearn to create something of breathtaking beauty. A physical object which incorporates music as part of the concept maybe.
On the one hand - digital downloading is stripped of enigma and people have become accustomed to it having NO value. Increasingly digital content is free and promotional fighting amongst the deluge of porn and free software and ringtones and movies. Having said that on the other hand - I love the movie stuff I pick up digitally - from political documentaries to to activist and spiritual mysticism it has become an alternative news source for me. I hope our music will fit into an audio equivalent of this network somehow and that people are finding a new truth via this digital revolution in both music and news gathering before it is completely controlled with the launch of the World Wide Web 2.
Brian Dougans: Digital has shown that the traditional record industry way of releasing albums is fucked. Every album that has been released this century in the traditional way has leaked before it's hit the stores. Music lovers just want to hear music as soon as it's available so if they can't buy it obviously they're going to hop on some torrent or blog link as soon as they can. I believe they want to buy music they like, so give them the option to be able to. Make it available to everyone at the same time via digital and bring the physical release along afterwards. No one and everyone is special in that way.
We still believe in the physical format. I want to own and hold an album in my hands. I want to look at the artwork and see how it reflects in the music. I want to read the liner notes. Good albums are an immerson for all the senses.
Interviewer: Tell us more about the FSOLDigital site and how people can use it.
Brian Dougans: We'd been wanting to do something like FSOLDigital for ages, originally just to sell some of the old albums and singles as a lot of it had gone out of print but we never quite got round to it. Then, about 12-18 months ago we had a couple of hard drives die on us and it was 'Fuck! What have we lost?' The parts for several released and unreleased tracks just gone! Mass panic and a lot of backing up begins.
In amongst this we're starting to work on the best of for EMI, trawling the archives looking to see if there's a few interesting curios that might be useful. Mountains and mountains of DAT's. There was stuff in there that neither of us could remember doing and before we had got through the first box we must've had 50 tracks that deserved being heard. A bit of research showed that we could get something setup and running a lot easier than when we last looked into it.
FSOLDigital is the electronic brain made reality. It gives us the freedom to do whatever we want, when we want. No 3 month wait to get the 'campaign' together, no A&R guy telling you to go off and write a 'hit' before it's released, etc, etc.
Gaz Cobain: Use and abuse - search and seek and peruse vaults of our ongoing experiments with sound. Hopefully we will find a new format within this digital freedom - hopefully documentaries and digital magazines - who knows - we are at the beginning of something and we are excited by its possibilities.
Interviewer: Do FSOL leave through their production of music these days?
Gaz Cobain: Leave?? Do you mean lead - well no, we can never lead, just be part of inevitable progress. But yes in certain unexpected ways we are part of a revolution of change. I like to think we play our part.
Interviewer: Also tell us more about the new projects and the future of the project any plans for gigs?
Gaz Cobain: We write pretty much separately these days - but we are waiting for something which unites us - this will be the new FSOL sound. I don't honestly know WHEN / IF / HOW but Brian and I will battle it out creatively. We both know that FSOL could deliver something of value to the world again. It's there within us and without us - we just have to find it and we are both preparing ourselves for that process. We have the desire for FSOL though which is a hugely important beginning. The most important next stage is to bring our individuality together.
We released 4 archive FSOL albums last year which are unreleased tracks from our archives. We plan to do the same with Amorphous archives.
Brian Dougans: We call it the FSOL puddle: two individuals fighting to be heard but only really compromising to create a puddle of confusion. But always from this comes a clarity and a purpose and a momentum and direction.
Interviewer: What will be the future sound of London? And the universe also?
Gaz Cobain: The sound of one hand clapping - silence interspersed with a glitch in cellular memory. Frequencies unheard, activating the hypothalamus and a new strand of DNA. Sonic revolution bringing mankind home in silent union.
Interviewer: Have you got in mind any new producers that make the difference today? So readers to check them.
Gaz Cobain: New doesn't make sense to me anymore since I am constantly finding OLD stuff that is new to me - past / present / future - we live in a world where catalogue and music from our past history is just as relevant as new music. In fact this is the new revolution - Led Zeppelin's old music and Pink Floyd are even more relevant NOW and there are so many forgotten sages of music that taken out of context and played in the present day will inspire and 'turn on' the world - this is the same for everything in the present for me personally.
To ignore the past is blindness - politically / environmentally / spiritually. It's only electronic music that seems to despise the past which is probably why I feel distant from it these days. Somehow electronic music got swallowed into a celebration of the possibilities of technology alone and somehow forgot the possibilities of communication and soul. I always said I had no intention of being a software salesman. I see myself as a truth merchant - somebody who helps others to search by revealing his own journey. So new producers sure, but past / present / future are all merging NOW.
Most of the new producers I admire today understand the past and I can hear a sense of the past in what they do. For example, Air very much are inspired by the past as much as the possibilities of the present. Nigel Godrich (Radiohead producer) very much understand the balance of vintage techniques. 'Love', the Beatles mashup, we feel we could have bettered, but was interesting. Devendra Banhart I personally love and Noah Gorgeson who produced Devendra and Joanna Newsom I admire. Six Organs of Admittance we like, also older stuff like Can / Amon Duul / Miles Davis in his 70s cosmic jam phase. Also Bill Laswell is a perfect example in his translations of Miles Davis of someone who gets the balance right between understanding the past and the possibilities of the future technology to make something revolutionary. Mahavishnu Orchestra we love sometimes and Joni Mitchell / Fairport Convention folk with a sting in its tail.
Interviewer: Can you tell us in a few words the stories behind all the full albums from FSOL?
Gaz Cobain: Accelerator was the revolution of rhythm and sampling and the excitement of injecting unusual influences using some of the language of electronic dance.
Lifeforms was the rejection of the rules of dance music and the search for organic sound and layers with undulating circadian rhythms. It was the rejection of the crowd toward and isolationary journey of self discovery with parallels to the imminent isolation of the new emerging internet and digital entertainments experienced 'alone' domestically rather than 'socially' in a crowd. It is the sound of sitting alone in a room experiencing all the inner magnetism of self while at the same time connected digitally to the rest of mankind.
ISDN was the amalgamation of all the broadcasts we conducted via ISDN digital phone lines where we played live to the venues and radio stations and art galleries from London down digital links that had up until that time been used exclusively for news gathering. After a year of these broadcasts we assembled them into a live album ISDN.
Dead Cities is the sound of confusing and decay and beauty all found within the metaphor of a dying decaying city. It is the sound of death and rebirth - hope and despair in equal measure. It is romantic but paranoid - glimpsing beauty but also with a sense of futility. The sounds are equal part abrasive to beauty like an inward battle that never resolves. This was a breakdown point for me - struggling with my mental and physical health so this struggle was very real. I was seeing the beginning of the end for living in the city yearning for nature and I felt like I was working for FSOL and my individuality was no longer relevant. FSOL seemed corporate and I felt angry and sad / aggression seemed too easy as a reaction and yet FSOL seemed to be thriving on this frequency. I wanted a new frequency - I was beginning to listen to vocal songs and goofy easy listening and our sound seemed to be 'dark' and abrasive. I began to yearn for something beautiful and uplifting. Listening back now this struggle is riveting and genuine and I love elements of this album. But why did I suffer so much making it??
Amorphous Androgynous - The Isness - we stopped listening to electronica and computerised rhythms and started going to markets and buying interesting looking old records rock / psych / cosmic funk / 70s easy listening - anything that listed unusual equipment or experimental beliefs. Because I was heavily into mysticism and yoga and meditation we also started buying records that revealed a spiritual search. We discovered 1967 (the year of my birth) - and I suddenly realised that in 1967 there had been a revolution in music - the psychedelic revolution - a huge experiment in sound and music technology. All of the issues I had in 1997 had been experienced by a generation in 1967 I realised and it was this frequency that fuelled this new chapter. I started writing songs travelling extensively and healing on many levels. Brian got into new technology and the dream of a cosmic electronic psychedelic narrative began to emerge. All of this took years as time just slipped by in the process.
Amorphous Androgynous - Alice in Ultraland - continuing the cosmic vibration - we had assembled a supergroup of musicians who we conducted and collaged into the final recordings with Brian and myself as producers and occasional musicians. This album was released by the legendary Harvest the label that released Pink Floyd's records. It seemed appropriate to us.
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