The fifteenth instalment of The Maker feature follows the release of ‘A Garden of Solitude’ (RTR022) by London-based improviser and experimentalist, Matt Atkins. Matt is a busy creative with a consistent output across multiple labels, including TQ N-aut, Falt, his own output, Minimal Resource Manipulation, and many others. Matt is also an accomplished and regular live performer, bringing his blend of found objects, tape manipulation and sound experimentation to the live setting – his performance at the first RTR live event last month was something special! If that wasn’t enough, Matt has provided artwork for a number of RTR’s releases in 2019 and has recently had some of his abstract painting/collages exhibited in London.
In this feature, Matt discusses his introduction to ambient music, finding inspiration in non-musical sound, creating sound collages, and the importance of physical music items.
How did you first get introduced to ambient/drone/experimental music?
I started listening to John Peel in around 1987, just as my musical tastes were beginning to define themselves and his shows opened up numerous avenues of musical exploration for me. This, coupled with my ardent purchasing of the NME and Melody Maker every week, lead me to investigate some of the stuff they were writing about. I would say that hearing things like Aphex Twin’s ‘Selected Ambient Works Volume 2’, Eno’s ‘Music For Airports’, Scott Walker’s track ‘Boy Child’ and ‘Zeit’ by Tangerine Dream in the early 90’s all totally opened my mind up to this kind of atmospheric music that was stripped back of unnecessary clutter and truly transportative.
What inspires you to create a new body of work?
Normally it will be the spark of an interesting sound or an idea for a process that I might find interesting. For instance in an office at work there was a strip light in the ceiling where a couple of the bulbs had begun to flicker and were making this very delicate clicking and popping sound. Before getting it fixed I made sure I came in with my recorder to capture the sound, which was used in a recent piece. Listening to other artists, watching films, reading books or looking at visual art are all very stimulating for me too. Inspiration can come from many places in and in many forms. I think it’s just important to keep your eyes, ears and mind open to what’s out there.
How do you approach working on a new release?
I don’t often have a definite plan for particular releases. I try to keep making pieces that I find interesting and sometimes these will naturally form the basis of a concept or project and at other times not. With each new piece I will often throw a number of sounds together to see what happens and then add or peel away layers until it starts taking shape into something I’m happy with. It’s like starting with a big block of stone and gradually chiselling away at it. At the moment I am more interested in removing those layers and paring pieces down to their bare essentials. I find making more space within the music quite calming and compelling.
Can you tell us about your favourite new release from the last 12 months?
2019 has been an incredibly fertile year for new experimental music and sound art. It’s difficult to choose one particular release but certainly an artist that I’ve found myself returning to again and again this year is Philip Sullidae. He’s released great stuff on a number of fine labels including Falt, Linear Obsessional, Verz and his own imprint Hemispharenokukyo. His tape for Audio. Visuals. Atmosphere. from this year, ‘Le Viole’ is superb.
As RTR is a tape label, we have to ask: What attracts you to the cassette medium?
For me it’s still important to for an album or piece of work to exist in a physical medium. In this digital age there is the danger that releases become very ephemeral and almost throwaway especially with the amount of stuff that is produced and uploaded these days. There’s too much to ever be able to listen to and I think that having a physical artefact somehow validates the existence of the music. I’m probably just being very old fashioned and I guess, to some degree, the cassette format is a bit of nostalgia for me. In the past year I have begun using cassette recorders in my live and recorded work. I love the sound of them and the rougher, less crystal clear texture that they bring to a sound. They are also a lot more economically viable to produce than vinyl and arguably more interesting to interact with than a CD.
Matt Atkins – ‘A Garden of Solitude’ (RTR022) is available as a limited edition cassette and as a digital download via Rusted Tone Recordings, featuring a lavish double-sided, full colour, three-panel J-card (bit of a mouthful!) with artwork by the man himself.