Welcome to the first instalment of ‘The Maker’; a regular interview feature with artists who have released works on RTR. There will also be a regular accompanying feature, ‘The Listener’, which engages with the label’s listeners.
To kickstart the series and celebrate the launch of the new RTR website, The Maker #1 features Spheruleus, who released the first tape on RTR back in February 2018 with the album ‘Glimmers’ (RTR001). Spheruleus is the solo music project of Lincolnshire-based Harry Towell, who is well-established within the contemporary ambient scene having released on labels Time Released Sound, Hibernate Recordings, and Home Normal. When he’s not making music, Harry runs the labels Whitelabrecs and Audio Gourmet, as well as the reviewing site Irregular Crates.
How did you first get introduced to ambient/drone/experimental music?
I suppose the short answer would be getting a laptop during my DJ days and not being able to afford much digital music to put onto the iPod that I’d won in a Coca Cola competition. I discovered netlabels such as Thinner when searching for minimal Techno and suddenly the door opened to Ambient music. I also began to look into the works of Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Steve Roach, Robert Rich etc and started making my own work too, inspired by these artists. I created Ambient works by pitching down samples and dictaphone tape recordings and released this via netlabels. Years in the scene matured my taste and I enjoyed the friendly, approachable nature of label owners such as Hibernate, Under The Spire and Home Normal and was amazed at how positive, collaborative and nurturing this scene was. This was very unlike my DJ days, when all DJs thought they played the best tunes! Jonathan, Ian, Chris and others would sometimes share their releases and introduce me to other artists and I have supported the scene ever since.
What inspires you to create a new body of work?
Usually the outdoors, driving or walking through rural landscapes will encourage me to record something new. Or perhaps a new piece of equipment, software of instrument can provide the spark to a new project. I tend to work to themes and concepts that are at least partially mapped out before creating an album and rarely try to ‘come up with something after I’ve made an album’. I enjoy immersing myself into a theme and a lot of my new Sound experiments and ideas tend to be directly influenced by the theme.
How do you approach working on a new release?
Usually I’ll use my chosen theme or concept as the starting point which will help me work out which tones and elements to use. Some styles may call for bright acoustic plucked strings such as classical guitar, ukulele or mandola and others might require deeper more melancholy tones from my electric guitar or violin. I’ll record some variations with a few instruments and layer with effects – usually reverb of course but also on occasion some light noise, granular synthesis or tape effects. I’ll then layer the sounds and add in every day sounds such as field recordings or house hold objects to add narrative. Usually at this point the track’s framework is in place and I’ll render it into a WAV file to listen to on my iPod until the next session and I’ll reflect further on the theme and whether any further elements or adjustments should be made. I also sometimes work to more loop/tempo based guidelines and for this the approach is similar, except with this I’ll experiment with rhythms more until I can find a ‘hook’. I’ll work on this, usually for longer – adding or taking away until I feel happy overall. I’ll still follow the process of exporting a session, listening and then further developing in subsequent studio time.
Can you tell us about your favourite release from the last 12 months?
This would have to be Olafur Arnalds’ ‘re:member’ which I own on vinyl. I have followed his work for many years but this floored me, with repeated listens over the second half of 2018 and beyond. My daughter was born in September and since her birth, I’ve enjoyed playing her the 12” record in my studio and for this reason in particular I’ve really connected with this album. Our favourite track is ‘Inconsist’ but the whole thing really is incredible!
As RTR is a tape label, we have to ask: what attracts you to the cassette medium?
The obvious answer and main reason is that added warmth and hiss! The retro element is also a big thing too but also, I often like to try to replicate tired, worn out tapes in my work and admire other artists that do this. Another fascinating thing is how the medium can slowly degrade over time the more it is played and with Ambient/experimental music this gives an extra character you’ll never get with streaming or digital files. Vinyl degrades can cause the needle to skip or hash clips but tape just sounds better and better despite the fact the audio is technically ‘suffering’. Although I guess it depends very much on the player and how the equipment is maintained!
Spheruleus – ‘Glimmers’ (RTR001) can be purchased on cassette or as a digital download. Please consider purchasing directly from the artist here.