This instalment of Music in a time of Global crisis brings the conversation to Matt Atkins. In addition to appearing on RTR in 2019 with the album ‘A Garden of Solitude’, Matt will be familiar to readers through his significant contributions to experimental music. Matt runs the imprint Minimal Resource Manipulation, collecting his own releases as well as collaboration with a wealth of artists including, but not limited to, Martin Clarke, Danny Clay, Graham Dunning, and Emmanuelle Waeckerle. Matt is a regular live performer within the London experimental and improv scene, using objects, percussion, and cassette recorders to build sound collages. Matt’s work explores texture, change, repetition and reductionism in sound, often drawing the attention of the listener towards micro-sound.
In this feature, Matt discusses how the Covid-19 crisis has affected his music making and recent opportunities for collaboration, concern for independent music venues and the live music industry, live streaming in a time of isolation, and how we as musicians can create positivity. Matt also provides a wealth of listening recommendations, including multiple artists and labels who are curating direct responses to the Covid-19 crisis to raise funds for those in need and to ensure we have venues to return to once it is safe to do so.
How have the widespread lockdowns in response to the Covid-19 crisis affected your music making?
The lockdown has been the source of much worry and anxiety for us all, with the uncertainty and strict guidelines that go against so many of our natural instincts being reacted to in many different ways. For me, once I’d got my head around the likelihood of being enclosed in my home and a one-mile radius around it for at least three months, I decided to try to embrace this and see it as an opportunity. The one thing I knew I would have that had been in scant supply until now was time and I was determined to make the most of it. Much of the music I make is composed in solitude so there wasn’t a huge change in that respect, the interesting thing is that over the past ten weeks the majority of projects that I’ve been working on have been collaborations, some with artists I have previously played live with and some long distance with musicians I have never actually met. I’ve found this has opened up my creativity in some unexpected ways and been a thoroughly stimulating experience.
Working with sounds exchanged by other artists has made me approach things in new ways and listen differently and the results have been really interesting. Already published are my collaborations with Ivy Nostrum, ‘Gestures and Constructs’ on Outlet Archival and ‘Spore’, created with Chris Hill and Ed Shipsey which I released on my own MRM label. Lockdown also allowed me the time to really explore ideas around duration and deep listening and how that feeds into meditative practices, something that I’m keen to continue with.
What music, new or old, have you been listening to lately, and have your listening habits changed as a result of the current situation?
The relative abundance of time suddenly available has definitely had a big and positive impact on my listening habits, giving me time to immerse myself fully in some of the box-sets sitting on the shelves in my collection, with Eliane Radigue, Harry Bertoia , Autechre’s NTS Sessions and Bernard Parmegiani all having a full airing. Not only are these collections long, but many of the pieces contained within are of durations that, in some cases, surpass the sixty-minute mark and it’s been illuminating to sink into these works and give them the concentration they deserve. There has also been a whole host of stuff online that I’ve finally been able to hear in full including Philip Thomas’ exquisite performances of Morton Feldmanpieces on Another Timbre and the full studio recordings of Miles Davis’ ‘On the Corner Sessions’, which clocks in at over six hours. The habit that has most surprised me and given me a huge amount of pleasure has been the re-engagement with my vinyl and CD collection, some of which appears on my iPod and might only be listened to piecemeal whilst on the go under ‘normal’ circumstances.
To spend quality time in the room that the collection is housed and to interact in that tactile way with a physical object has awarded me the basis for much reflection and reminiscence. In 2009 I found myself in financial difficulties and took the very difficult decision to sell two thirds of my record collection, something that still gives me pangs of regret to this day. The third that I kept (around 450 pieces) has, over the past ten weeks, become like a gateway back into my youth. Fond memories of the incomparable excitement of removing a record from its sleeve (even more so if it was a gatefold) and marvelling at the artwork that adorned those twelve inches of cardboard. These are objects of real beauty to me, many of which I hadn’t looked at in some time. Whether it be the archaically packaged Joy Division and New Order records on Factory, the split series of 12” singles on Fat Cat records with their identical white sleeves only differentiated by the number of holes drilled through the cover to identify each release, or the Peel Sessionsseries of twelve inches with their generic presentation and inventive fonts, each of these evokes memories of discovery and wonder and my subsequent path into and obsession with music and sound. In terms of the physical object it’s not quite the same with my CDs but, nevertheless, I’ve taken great pleasure in listening to some of these again. Currently in the stack next to the CD player waiting to be heard are The Best of John Fahey, Alice Coltrane’s ‘Lord of Lords’, Music Has the Right to Children by Boards of Canada, The Cure’s ‘Seventeen Seconds’ and The Best of Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
Consequence of Sound reported the worst week of album sales since the 1960s (28th March 2020). Do you think the coronavirus outbreak will have a lasting negative effect on the music industry?
The real concern for me as far as the industry is concerned is the potentially devastating effect this could have on venues and the live music scene. Whilst sales of music in physical formats will no doubt be affected, there are still digital platforms available to interact with although, unfortunately these days that seldom seems to lead to sales. Personally, the vast majority of music I buy these days is through Bandcamp, either in digital or physical formats as the lion’s share of revenue goes directly to the artists or labels. Venues though are finding things really tough with rents and overheads still needing to be paid but no income to speak of. I, like many others, had to cancel three concerts that I had organised for March, April and May. There have been a number of recent releases and online events by artists helping to support these establishments over the past few months. The Hundred Years Gallery has a selection of 14 digital albumsall donated by the artists with all profits going to its upkeep during the quarantine, The Windmill in Brixton and Hackney’s Cafe Oto have both had online raffles with an array of fantastic lots up for grabs and some other venues such as IKLECTIK have embraced the format of live streaming in creative ways with the option of a donation should you wish to help them.
With more musicians live streaming from their homes than ever before, do you think this trend will continue once things improve?
I think live streaming is a good thing and is an interesting way for people to interact with live music from their own home although I’m pretty sure most of us would prefer to be in the room where the action is taking place. East London’s Arch One venue has been live streaming its gigs via its YouTube channel for a long time now and I think in many scenarios it would be good to have the option to do this, certainly with gigs that may be taking place overseas or in another part of the country for example. I haven’t been compelled to take part in any myself, partly as I don’t have the setup at home to ensure a decent enough quality of sound but have enjoyed watching a few. The streaming gigs put together by the folk at IKLECTIK have been particularly good, especially with their use of interesting visual elements and the selection of artists who have performed.
What do you think we as music makers can be doing to create positivity right now?
As mentioned above, it’s been great to see so many artists come together to help raise money for venues and for charities too. I’ve been really happy to have contributed new pieces to compilations for the Hundred Years Gallery; ‘QCS Loves the NHS’ and Liquid Library’s ‘The View From Our Living Rooms’, raising money for NHS workers and The Trussell Trust respectively. I’ve also spent time organising a second volume of ‘Responses’, proceeds of which will be donated to charity once it’s out. I’ve also been enjoying some of the quarantine projects put together by labels such as AnotherTimbre, Whitelabelrecs and Erstwhile Records. The latter’s John Abbey has been curating an ongoing series of pieces from artists from around the globe called Amplify 2020 with at least two new ones posted onto its dedicated Bandcamp page every day. With over a hundred pieces added so far and a dedicated Facebook group it certainly highlights the global network of sound artists and is another positive way to connect and bring people together. This is so important at the moment with so much anxiety and negativity filling our TV channels and social media streams it’s vital to have somewhere to retreat to for a few hours of solace and escapism.