Possibly our longest ‘The Maker’ instalment for a while (at least to date, as AHFG is a duo!), brings Bristol-by-Farnham-based two piece, A Home For Ghosts, into conversation with RTR. Mutual friends for years through a similar taste in ambient and experimental music, the duo of Neil Carter (Carter) and James Edward Armstrong (Slow Clinic) formed in October 2017 from a desire to create dense, textural explorations of sound.
Originally know as Ghost Station, AHFG settled on their current name, having released: three albums (‘Fragility, and the Transience of Existence’ (2017, self-release), ‘In This Absence’ (2018, Rusted Tone Recordings), and ‘Of a Star, Never Setting…’ (2018, Eilean Rec.), an EP (‘Lull’ (2018, Audio Gourmet Netlabel), and a live recording (‘The Things We Will Become’ (2018, self-release). Neil and James give us their thoughts on the usual subjects…
How did you first get introduced to ambient/drone/ experimental music?
Neil: That was a long time ago! I guess it was mid/late 90’s and being heavily into electronic stuff, post-rock, all sorts really! Finding experimental stuff, the more appealing, crate digging and discovering pioneers like Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Tangerine Dream. One artist that really altered my view when I my taste was developing was Fennesz. His records (especially ‘Endless Summer’) really opened me up to what “ambient” could mean, the use of noise and distortion really struck a chord in me.
James: To recall a very specific moment, an old bandmate played Brian Eno’s ‘An Ending (Ascent)’ in his room shortly after a band practice around 2005 or 2006. Up until then, I was drawn towards gentle atmospheric music without really knowing what it was or where to find it. The bandmate suggested buying Eno’s ‘Ambient 1: Music for Airports’, which brought me to a rather cliché entry into ambient music. Around 2011/12, I started to delve a little deeper into the contemporary ambient scene; Y0t0’s ‘Uriarra Road’ (Fracture), ‘Coruscates’ (Rural Colours)
by Talkingmakesnosense, and Pleq’s ‘Absorbed by Resonance’ (mAtter) are releases I remember finding quite early on that stand out as leaving an impression.
What inspires you to create a new body of work?
Neil: It can vary, usually, especially with electro-acoustic based work it can simply be a sound I hear, that sparks an idea of a way to collect sounds. To recreate the way these sounds, occur, in miniature and incorporate them into a generative patch. When working solely on the modular system I’m very often inspired purely by the process of creating a new patch. You have such freedom in your choices, starting with a completely blank instrument, it can take you anywhere. It’s about experimenting… what happens when I run the signal this way or that, it’s so fun!
James: I’m usually inspired by emotional triggers. These can be the various sensations when listening to other music, from viewing art in a gallery, or even when out walking in nature. It’s usually a combination, such as when hearing a certain piece of music while in a certain specific situation – my own solo work as Slow Clinic was inspired by unexpectedly hearing Jonsi & Alex’s ‘Boy 1904’ as the sun rose over Cardiff Bay one morning and wanting to create music that could be part of similar experiences for other people. I’m always interested to hear about how others experience the music I’ve played a part in making, and what sort of emotions are conjured up as a result.
How do you approach working on a new release?
Neil: I’m making things all the time, always building generative patches. I guess I’ll pursue an idea if I feel it works, if it’s something worth exploring then I will work on it, tweaking the patch and adding other elements from different sources to make it more complete. When I reach a good point in a patch, I will very often walk away and just leave it to run for a few hours, I’ll just get on with my day, do other stuff and just listen, see where it takes itself over time. I really enjoy the way James and I work on AHFG, usually an exchange of rough tracks and ideas. No real planning. I love receiving emails from James and often will have one of his tracks on repeat while build a patch that I can then improvise around. I try to keep the bones of the patch the same for all parts of the project. Hearing his responses to the pieces I send him is great too, such a pleasure to work with, I love his sound and we go well together.
James: I tend start new music with some kind of textural element, usually with a field recording that hasn’t been used before. I usually carry a field recorder in my backpack wherever I go, and as a result, I’ve built up an extensive collection of environmental recordings. Once I’ve processed the textural foundations with filtering and reverb, I start to add the music elements on top. With AHFG, it’s usually Neil that starts a track. As we’re working remotely, we will have talked briefly about the kind of sounds we’re working with or the general mood we’d like to get across in a certain track, but there’s very little in the way of planning in any great detail. I build up guitar-based drones and long-form loops over the top in response to what I’m hearing. Our live performances (to date) are done in the same way; I tend to musically respond to the sounds I’m hearing from Neil.
Can you tell us about your favourite new release from the last 12 months?
Neil: Shelter Press always come up with the goods, Thom Ankersmit – ‘Homage to Dick Raaijmakers’, Felicia Atkinson/Jefre Cantu Ledesma – ‘Limpid as the Solitudes’, CV & JAB – ‘Thoughts of a Dot as it Travels a Surface’ were all phenomenal records, as was ‘Sort/Lave’ from Richard Devine. The gigantic mass of audio from Autechre was, as always, spectacular. Think my favourite though was the long-awaited reissue of Wolf Eyes – ‘Dread’, an absolute killer slice of wax.
James: Dino Spiluttini’s ‘Ceremony’, which came out on ACR in November 2018. I’m a huge fan of everything ACR puts out and was introduced to Spiluttini’s work after he mastered Net’s ‘Weta & Weta’ (RTR011). There’s a lot of depth to the album, and it has been played around the house a lot since it was released. Other notable mentions are Now Sleep – ‘Ghost Stories’ on Elm Records, and Ashlar – ‘Distant Scenes’ on Whitelabrecs.
As RTR is a tape label, we have to ask: What attracts you to the cassette medium?
Neil: Nostalgia, I think, plays a big part in it. I grew up on cassettes… The hiss, the warmth, the clunky playback, the degradation, their physicality. They perfectly suit the diy nature of the wonderful labels that release them, the perfect medium for experimental music.
James: Much like my introduction to ambient music, I was recommended to pick up M. Mucci’s ‘The Secret is Knowing When to Close Your Eyes’ (Private Chrono‐logy, re-released by Arachnidiscs) by Fraser McGowan (Caught in the Wake Forever). I grew up with cassettes and making my own mixtapes, but it had been at least a decade (at the time) since I’d touched a cassette. I had an old Sony stereo system that played CDs, MDs, and cassettes, so I could listen to the album as it was intended. I was immediately hooked on the audible fragility of the medium. I like that the frequency range is limited, that there’s always going to be a level of hiss, and that the mechanical noises of the tape and playback system can be heard. Over the last few years, I’ve bought more music on tape and less on any other format. In 2017, I unintentionally only bought new music on cassette, which inspired the research paper: ‘Cassette Culture in 2017’. I grew so fond of the medium, I launched RTR in January 2018!
‘In This Absence’, by A Home For Ghosts, was released on RTR back in April 2018. There are still a couple of copies left before they’re gone forever! AHFG will be back with a new album on RTR in 2020.