This instalment of ‘The Maker’ features Wil Bolton, the London-based experimental musician whose latest album ‘April Spiral’ was released on RTR earlier this month. Wil is a veteran within the experimental music scene, having released music under his own name on labels such as Hibernate Recordings, Time Released Sound, Dauw, Fluid Audio, and many more over the past decade.
Wil takes us through his introductions to contemporary ambient music, his creative process, and the sonic imperfections of the cassette medium.
How did you first get introduced to ambient/drone/experimental music?
I listened to some experimental music as a teenager, though more on the rock side of things (industrial, punk, shoegaze, goth etc), but my first introduction to drone was discovering La Monte Young via his influence on The Velvet Underground. Then in the early nineties a friend at university played me Eno’s ‘Music for Airports’ and Eno and Fripp’s ‘No Pussyfooting’ as well as some more contemporary ambient music. To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy it at the time! I was just starting to get into electronic music and was listening to a lot of the early Warp Records releases – I don’t think I was ready for the beatless stuff at that point, but my tastes slowly shifted and matured over the following decade and my listening habits moved through IDM, electronica, glitch, microsound and onto drone and ambient.
What inspires you to create a new body of work?
I often take my inspiration from visual cues, particularly from landscapes, architecture and the identity of places. Many of my works being with field recordings, so the sound and mood of the recorded environment is usually the inspiration behind the instruments, melodies and textures that I add to them. Other times though (such as with my Rusted Tone release, which does not feature field recordings), it’s the instruments themselves and the texture of sound they produce that inspires me.
How do you approach working on a new release?
I use a laptop for recording and mixing, but have moved away from digital sound sources and signal processing and prefer to start with acoustic or analogue electronic instruments – acoustic and electric guitars, analogue synthesizers, glockenspiel, chime bars, bells and so forth. I play these through a string of guitar effects and looper pedals to create melodic loops and drones, using the laptop as a simple multitrack recorder – I tend to ignore the tempo and go off grid and I like to work with loops of different lengths, I love the way this allows tracks to breathe and evolve organically as the various loops never meet at the same point.
Can you tell us about your favourite new release from the last 12 months?
Recently I’ve been mostly listening to 1980s dreamy indie music – especially the bands Felt and Galaxie 500. In terms of new ambient releases, I’ve been really enjoying a couple that I was privileged to have a small involvement with (I mention this for full disclosure!) – Michiru Aoyama’s ‘Screen Shot’ release on Rusted Tone (for which I provided the cover photo) and Tone Color’s ‘Everything You Know Is Wrong’ on Assembly Field (which was the final album I mastered before taking a break to focus on my own work).
As RTR is a tape label, we have to ask: What attracts you to the cassette medium?
I grew up in the 70s and 80s so I’ve always listened to tapes and never really stopped. There is of course a certain nostalgia to listening to cassettes and they always remind me of making tape mixes of favourite tracks for friends. I think my partner still has a few tapes I made for her when we first met over 20 years ago! And I’m drawn to the quality of the sound – the hiss, the warm saturation and natural compression of the medium and the woozy sound of degraded or sun-baked tape. I actually incorporated some of the sounds of the medium into my album for Rusted Tone, as I knew when working on it that it would be a cassette release, recording layers of vintage keyboard and synthesizer tones to a hand-held cassette recorder using decades-old cassettes, before resampling and processing them using a sampler and pedalboard full of effects.
Wil Bolton – ‘April Spiral’ is out now on RTR, limited to 50 cassettes and as a digital download.