The Maker #43 – Heavy Cloud

Continuing the game of catch up for Maker features, #43 brings the conversation to Heavy Cloud following the release of ‘How to Find My Way Home’ (RTR058). Under the name Heavy Cloud, Cornwall-based Ryan Hooper creates music inspired by memory and landscapes, often in tandem with collage-based artworks and textual explorations. Their debut album was released by James A. McDermid’s Mailbox label in 2021. Ryan has followed this up with a number of self-releases on Bandcamp, several of which included small runs of bespoke physical keepsakes. 2022 has seen Heavy Cloud release new music on Anticipating Nowhere Records, Wormhole RecordsHistamine Tapes and Falt. Since Ryan responded to these questions, ‘scree’ has also been released via Brachliegen Tapes. Alongside music, Ryan enjoys creating collage artwork (which includes the cover art for ‘How to Find My Way Home’) as well writing across a number of styles.

In this feature, Ryan discusses the noisy experiments in indie rock that led to the discovery of ambient music, unconventional starting points, and the validity of cassettes in today’s music making and listening practices. Ryan also gives a list of listening recommendations (once you’re through will the Heavy Cloud back catalogue!). 

How did you first get introduced to ambient/drone/experimental music?

As a teenager I was really into indie rock and lo-fi especially Pavement, which led to Sonic YouthDinosaur Jr and My Bloody Valentine. It was through Sonic Youth’s own SYR label series that I became more familiar with free improvisation and abstract experimental music. SY4 saw the group create interpretations of pieces by John CageSteve ReichPauline OliverosYoko Ono and more. Sonic Youth also introduced me to Jim O’Rourke’s electronic and glitch projects – ‘I’m Happy, and I’m Singing, and a 1​,​2​,​3​,​4’ album is one of my favourites.

I also became intrigued by the use of field recordings and space and silence in post-rock and the emotive response to nature in Phil Elverum’s projects. A gateway ambient record – possibly like many others – was The Disintegration Loops. And then the more I listened, the more I began to feel the healing properties of the ambient music I discovered. I then found attempting to create a form of ambient music myself could act as another form of therapy for me. 

I’m a researcher at heart and discovered a lot by reading about musicians speaking about their influences – Bradford Cox discussing Broadcast and Stereolab, for example. A lot of his Atlas Sound work, particularly his old blog content, really made me want to have a go at creating electronic and ambient music. It was after finding the varied output of Spencer Clark (and later seeing him play live) that inspired me to try to world build through sound, which then, several years later, led to my first public release I put out on Bandcamp in 2020.

A big inspiration, and early point of support and encouragement, continues to be James A. McDermid. I’ve since spoken with so many wonderful individuals online and this has been such a highlight and a constant inspiration to me. I’m a voracious listener and am still discovering new (and new to me) works every day and this is primarily down to the great community of musicians, writers and bloggers covering the shifting scenes within ambient and experimental music.

What inspires you to create a new body of work?

Usually, each project is initially inspired by a particular source: it could be another piece of music or just as easily be a photo, a conversation, a line from a novel I’m reading, poetry, a film, a conversation, a field recording, or being outside connecting with the Cornish landscape. The work then becomes an amalgamation of this initial inspiration with whatever comes out during the process of improvisation and recording.

I create for personal enjoyment and therapy, so to have any listeners is such a privilege and hugely surreal. For over 10 years I made music but didn’t share anything. The Heavy Cloud name attached itself to this somewhere along the way – it originally was from a drawing I made but seemed to fit the body of music I was creating.

How do you approach working on a new release?

I sometimes start by writing notes about what I would like to include or how I want to feel listening to it. Or I might even have a project name or track titles that I would like to use before any music is made, which serves as a springboard. Similar to writing or painting I find it’s often best to jump in and fill the space with an initial energy and iterate from there.

I enjoy melody and noise, so I have an interest in playing with how one sound might interplay with another, whether this is with synths, samples, loops, field recordings or text to speech elements. I’m a grouper of sounds and that’s why I love collage art so much – taking disparate elements and textures and making something new out of the ephemeral, lost, or not yet imagined.

Can you tell us about your favourite new release from the last 12 months?

Gwenno’s third album ‘Tresor’ is sublime. They are a key reason why I started to investigate my Cornish roots more and seek inspirations from local landscapes and voices. It is a great journey through electronic and kosmische-tinged ambience with infectious melodies and lyrics.

Arun Sood’s ‘Searching Erskine’ project has also left a lasting impact. Exploring place, landscape and memory, it sensitively brings the past into dialogue with the present in transformative ways.

I’ve also really enjoyed Huerco S.’s ‘Plonk’Daughter’ by Raum, and claire rousay’s everything perfect is already here.

As RTR is a tape label, we have to ask: What attracts you to the cassette medium?

My first music-playing device I could call my own was a Walkman and it was such a big deal getting this for a birthday present from my parents. It gave me the power to listen to what I wanted to, beyond the family hi-fi or car radio, and it was magical. Cassettes can be considered nostalgic, but they also still perfectly serve their purpose. I like the fact they are tactile, and you can see and hear their mechanism; they have nothing to hide and carry a certain emotional weight that is cherished.

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