The 20th maker feature brings Andrew Cooke to the conversation. I met Andrew back in 2017 when A Home For Ghosts were performing together for the first time as part of the Bristol Hum Festival. In addition to performing, Andrew also curated the event alongside Neil Carter. Andrew first appeared on RTR under his SALTINGS alias in 2018 with the album ‘Columbarium’ (RTR007); a project in which he draws from pastoral-horror writings from the likes of M.R. James and W.G. Sebald. SALTINGS releases have appeared on a variety of labels since the project began in 2015, including Misophonia Records, Aphelion Editions, East Wall Recordings, Champion Version, and many more.
In this feature, Andrew talks about discovering ambient and experimental music through film, finding inspiration in literature, perfectionism, his favourite recent releases, and the holistic experience of the cassette medium.
How did you first get introduced to ambient/drone/experimental music?
Hmm, well, I grew up mainly on a diet of indie, although there were some artists (like Jim O’Rourke) who incorporated elements of noise, feedback and drone into his music, so I guess I was listening to some aspects of experimental music before I realised exactly what it was. There were probably some neo-classical soundtracks that introduced me too… one that sticks in my memory was Jed Kurzel’s score for Snowtown (which I think got released on Warp), that was pretty droney, and it was at that stage in my life that I was starting to write a few soundtracks myself. So, I found that I was starting to push my boundaries a little back then, in terms of my own composing. Up to that point I was mainly writing songs (for my band, The Evening Watch, which I still do time to time) but when I moved to Bristol to start the MA in Film Composition in 2012, I definitely concentrated more on instrumental work. I found that it channelled a different, rawer type of personal energy. I also met a few directors who really encouraged me to explore a much darker, more powerful side of my writing. I must mention that I was helped massively along the way by fellow label-mate Neil Carter, with whom I worked in Fopp with at the time; he introduced me to vast amounts of great drone. Thanks Neil!
What inspires you to create a new body of work?
I get very inspired by literature – words, sentences, turns of phrase. I read a lot and often find inspiration strikes quite suddenly. This is really just the key to unlocking a new SALTINGS work though: I know I talk about folk-horror and visualising bleak landscapes an awful lot as part of my creative process, but under that there’s a lot of roaring emotions that escape through the music, especially when I play live. It surprises even me sometimes, but we all have our hidden depths, I guess.
How do you approach working on a new release?
I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so after I’ve latched onto the inspiration for a new idea (see above), I often spend quite a while picking over the details. I have two main ways of writing a SALTINGS piece – the first is to treat it as a live set, which is how a good majority of my releases have come about. In this case I spend a lot of time working out the set-up; the combinations of instruments, effects, pedals etc, and then I’ll let loose and record a few half-hour takes of it. They all usually turn out completely different, so I just pick one! The other method of writing is more traditionally symphonic, whereby I plan out a work (usually on Pro-Tools) and then write it slowly, concentrating on how different sections of the piece meticulously intertwine. ‘Columbarium’ on RTR was written both ways; the first side based on a live set I did at The Mother’s Ruin in Bristol, and the second side was five conjoining sections and manipulations of a piano idea I recorded sneakily on the Steinway where I work!
Can you tell us about your favourite new release from the last 12 months?
I’ll be honest, I don’t get that much time to listen these days sadly, but I have tried my best to keep up with the RTR releases on Bandcamp, and they all sound fantastic… I’m very proud of my label-mates! Outside of that, I very much liked the new Richard Dawson, and Carter Tutti Void releases. And anything Alasdair Roberts does!
As RTR is a tape label, we have to ask: What attracts you to the cassette medium?
Its main attraction to me is the fact that it’s a reaction to the digital demolition of the album; I don’t use Spotify, it’s a vile thing, and cassettes ensure that the album remains whole, as the artist intended. It also spotlights and encapsulates the fabulous creative DIY spirit of musicians and music lovers, who work tireless for very little reward, to keep creating and sharing what they were put on this earth to do.
The Evening Watch