For this instalment of The Maker, experimental musician and sound artist Stuart Bowditch joins the conversation. Stuart will be familiar to readers, having recently released his album, ‘Song’s for Wyatting’ (RTR028) on Rusted Tone Recordings in August. Stuart has released via labels such as Hibernate Recordings, Fractal Meat Cuts, and Rednetic Recordings. In addition, Stuart also co-runs Courier alongside Nick Dawson, a micro label based in Suffolk releasing music on tape and CDr with hand-cut packaging.
In this feature, Stuart discusses first discovering ambient music through interludes found on metal records, the use of objects and samples as inspiration to new work, gives an overview of the creative process behind ‘Songs for Wyatting’, and celebrates the aesthetic of the cassette tape.
How did you first get introduced to ambient/drone/experimental music?
From my childhood I have always felt like an outsider and was never interested in the music that other kids listened to, which was mostly mainstream pop music of the 70’s and 80’s. But that forced me to search around and eventually I found other like-minded people, who were mostly listening to metal and skate punk. This was a revelation and set me off on a path searching for music that was from different approaches, which I continue on today. A lot of metal albums had ambient interludes or intros and I was fascinated by their brevity, placement and context. Morbid Angel’s ‘Blessed Are The Sick’ has some great orchestral pieces alongside death metal, and I loved how sounds so diverse can carry a similar message or feeling. The same year, 1991, I was introduced to The Orb’s ‘Adventures Beyond The Underworld’ whilst sitting in the back of a Vauxhall Chevette full of smoke, and a whole new world of ambient music opened up.
What inspires you to create a new body of work?
I usually have ideas for music whilst doing everyday mundane things and most of my inspiration comes from things that aren’t at all musical. For a long time, since about 2005/6, I have used a variety of objects or samples, sometimes found sometimes given, suggested or donated, and I slowly collect these things to work with and eventually, over the course of years, they form into a themed collection of tracks. I usually have several projects on the go at any one time, but they take a long time to manifest into a recognisable shape.
How do you approach working on a new release?
I originally had the concept for ‘Songs For Wyatting’ in 2010, but it took until 2020 for the whole idea to form into a cohesive body of work. I loved the concept of ‘Wyatting’, that you could go into a pub, select a very long and boring track, and then leave. Surely, anything would be better than listening to ‘Mustang Sally’ or the usual cheesy classics again! When choosing source material to work with I thought about sounds that make people uncomfortable and decided that silence would be ideal. I gathered together three examples of silence, edited some small samples (between 1 and 15 seconds) to work with and used just one sample to form each track. Two are taken from older formats and the ‘silence’ after the intended content has finished. ‘Rock Bottom’ is made from the click of a needle going around the run-out groove of the Robert Wyatt LP, which was given to me by author and activist Nicola Field. ‘RNID Cassette’ was a sample of the tape hiss taken from a digitisation job I did for deaf artist Damien Robinson, who wanted digital versions of the 5 different types of tinnitus on the cassette. ‘Apollo 12’ took a silent section of radio transmissions from the NASA space flight. MIDI data used to trigger the samples through Max For Live patches was generated using Ableton’s ‘Convert Melody to MIDI function’ applied to sections of Robert Wyatt’s ‘Dondestan’ LP.
Can you tell us about your favourite new release from the last 12 months?
Most of my listening time has been in the car lately, which is far from ideal and rather frustrating, so I haven’t tended to listen to much delicate or gentle music for obvious reasons. We’ve also been streaming Lockdown DJ Sessions from our kitchen since March, so I’ve been listening to a lot of current techno, electro and acid. When the time is right though I’m a big fan of Kali Malone, Claire M Singer, Thet Liturgiske Owäsendet and Abul Mogard.
As RTR is a tape label, we have to ask: What attracts you to the cassette medium?
I think that the cassette as an object and product is a tidy and pleasing package in which to transport and store music. Naturally, it suits some musical styles and aesthetics better than others but if you’re a collector of music, a shelf of cassettes is a very pleasing thing to browse through. Putting on an album and sitting down to listen to it is a very basic but enjoyable way to spend one’s time and physical formats afford you the chance to do that. Listening to music is an experience, which should be active rather than passive, and each of those experiences are different in a myriad of ways so I try to embrace the variety in each situation.