Mark Kluzek: Fallout Shelter Disks

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Credit: Owen Lewellyn
Mark Kluzek is the original creative force behind Doomed Bird of Providence, a band formed to enable Mark to write songs that explore the early colonial history of Australia. The band has had a varied line-up since beginning in 2009 and now features Katie English (flute, cello and glockenspiel), Richard Acton (guitar), Joolie Wood (violin), Drew Barker (uke), Ian Hothersall (percussion) and Stafford Glover (bass). Doomed Bird of Providence’s most recent release, Burrowed Into The Soft Sky, reviewed by Ears For Eyes here, is entirely instrumental, abandoning the song-forms of previous albums Will Ever Pray and Blind Mouths Eat, and the EP You Brought The Knife

 

The music and lyrics across these releases is often brutal and painfully frank, the protagonists in the songs diseased, murdered (or murdering), storm-wrecked and hopelessly lost. Mark’s focus on a single period of history has built a body of work that is as rewarding as it is horrifying.

 

Fallout Shelter Disks is a feature that asks artists for a list of the music they would take down into a bunker should the world end, along with a book and a luxury item. Any resemblances to a certain BBC Radio 4 programme are purely coincidental. As the horizon turns an ominous colour and the birds suddenly drop from the trees, let’s descend into the earth to talk about Mark’s catastrophe selections and his work.

MUSIC

Robert Wyatt – Rock Bottom

This album is endlessly creative. There’s lots of wordplay, humour and a sense of hope but then there’s this, at times, overwhelming sadness. There’s lots of wonderful experimenting and a fearless sort of approach to putting together things you wouldn’t necessarily think to, which I greatly admire. So I think this would be a good one to take. I don’t think I could ever tire of listening to this album.

Olivier Messiaen – Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum

My good friend Jayson played me this some decades ago on a crackly old LP. I became a bit fixated with it over time. It was performed two nights running at the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam along with Ligeti’s Atmospheres around the time I first moved to the UK from Australia. So off I went. On the first night the girl next to me explained that her boyfriend was in the orchestra but she found the music incomprehensible and annoying. I was very polite in my responses but she was quite annoying to sit next to. Anyway, I love it, the way he has just pulled ideas from different places and yet made it so cohesive, powerful and captivating. I would also argue it’s the greatest beginning to any piece of music ever.

 

Laughing Clowns – Ghosts of an Ideal Wife

Laughing Clowns always seemed a bit against the grain in the context they were in. There was some wonderful fusings of different influences with these fantastic, idiosyncratic musicians. There seems to be a decent amount of lazy writing about them being a sort of post-punk jazz band. But in terms of style, they’re all over the shop in the best possible way. This, their final album, is a bit more ‘songy’ but all the songs are fantastic.

Roky Erickson & the Aliens – Evil One (Plus One)

Well I’d go for this ‘Plus One‘ release as it has this extra CD which includes a very entertaining radio interview (from The Modern Humans Show on KSJO Radio) and lots of demos for the album. Some of the demos on the ‘Plus One‘ CD are better than ‘Evil One‘ for example, White Faces or Sputnik. Sputnik‘s outro is very intense bad-trip psychedelia. Seeing him live was great, he played lots of these songs. At one point it got a bit weird. One of the musicians in the band maybe tried to make a connection with everyone and said something like, “I’d like to wish a great British musician a happy birthday.” It turns out it was around Paul McCartney’s birthday. Not many people cheered. It was a bit awkward.

Brigitte Fontaine – 13 chansons décadentes et fantasmagoriques

The first time I went to France I was in my mid-twenties. On the last night I was in Metz I was walking with two friends (who I’d been visiting) and two drunk guys pulled up in a beat up old car. Fabio, one of the people I was with, knew them and they were telling us to get in the car with them because Brigitte Fontaine was playing live as we spoke and they said we had to come. We somehow managed to get there but it was quite hair-raising. The venue was an old crypt in the centre and the sound as we descended was this fantastic disjointed jazz. Brigitte Fontaine was dancing in this sort of contorted way, punctuating the music with these short, sharp words as she danced. It was amazing. I loved it. I got a few albums by her over time and this, her first, is one I have a soft spot for. It has a formative air about it I guess and she has dismissed it apparently but there’s some wonderful tunes on it.

BOOK

Chester Himes- The Harlem Cycle, Vol. 2

Chester Himes is a great writer and the Harlem Detective books are just great reads. Well there’s pretty constant unflinching violence but they are also very funny at times and then Himes will sort of wax philosophical every so often. He’s an endlessly interesting figure in terms of who he was and what he did.

LUXURY ITEM

Chainsaw

Well my logic is that when I come out of the fall-out shelter with a very long beard and some make-shift armour the landscape will be post-apocalyptic, like Mad Max 2. Initially I will only be met with hostility and will need a good weapon like a chainsaw to sort out adversaries. Eventually I’ll meet the right tribe and live the rest of my life devising ways to get fuel from opposing tribes. Eventually one of my 15 children I’ve had since I’ve been with the tribe will find my stuff in the fallout shelter. I’ll then have to explain why I chose all the cds and the book again. That will get pretty emotional for me and awkward/boring for the kid.

Ears For Eyes: The latest Doomed Bird of Providence album was realised through the use of graphic scores to set out a narrative that could be interpreted by the band. How did this process work? Did it greatly differ to how Doomed Bird of Providence albums have been made in the past?

Mark Kluzek: Well to me, it’s a logical progression from the first EP up to now.  I think I’ve often done some sort of mapping with certain songs.  Fedicia Exine, from the first album, is about a person, Fedicia Exine, walking around the streets of Hobart.  I managed to find a map of Hobart from the time she was alive and wrote the song based around an imaginary walk I thought she might take.

On the second album I worked on an extended instrumental piece, Mahina, and that was the first time I’d used a pictorial map to try and create the piece.  It worked really well in my opinion.  I took the map whenever we recorded stuff for it.  I decided, with the third album, to continue in the same vein – narrative driven instrumental pieces.  So I created the same sort of maps again.  I would sometimes notate things, other times describe what I was looking for, other times refer to specific bits of music.  I’d lay all this information over pictorial elements to give a sense of the structure of the song.

EFE: Your work returns repeatedly to address the European colonisation of Australia. What are the sources that you draw from for musical material?

MK: The songs from the first EP were from a range of different places.  One was from a book of old Australian ghost stories I found in Hobart.  Another was an old, over-the-top book about the Red Barn Murder I located in Lewisham Library book repository.  A little while later I started working in university libraries.  I had access to the stuff on the open shelves of Kings College London’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office Historical Collection. Songs from the first album like ‘On a Moonlit, Ragged Sea‘, ‘Fedicia Exine‘ and ‘On the Deathbed of Janus Weathercock‘ were based on books I found there.

The EP, ‘You Brought the Knife‘, was based on a wide range of sources: books from Senate House Library, a court transcript I ordered from Tasmania Archives and Heritage as well as some great primary source stuff from someone living in Tasmania who was writing a book chapter about Maria Murray (the subject of the EP).

I’ve been quite lucky given the sort of things I’ve pursued musically to have access to these libraries.

EFE: Burrowed Into The Soft Sky is a frightening album, particularly its second half. When you look at the horrors of the period your music responds to, is sheer noise sometimes the natural answer? Were you lost for words with this one?

MK: For me, when I started reading about the things that took place in Australia’s colonial past I felt sickened and deeply angry.  Whether or not it’s my place to be expressing these sorts of things in music I don’t know but that’s what I felt at the time.  So it’s a creative process driven by a real revulsion and anger towards this  rank, abject behavior that is rife in stories from colonial history. The Blood Dimmed Tide is Loosed is based around a sort of feeling of deep anger and horror.  So it’s just how it came out.  There’s a very conscious use of dynamics throughout that piece and I think parts of it are much less dissonant than others.  For me the guitar noise and feedback in the central part of The Blood Dimmed Tide was Loosed made sense and was exactly what I was looking for.  Richard Acton did a very good job there I think.  It then shifts into the section with the feedback and the drums (which are a loose attempt at Jim White’s playing in Venom P. Stinger) then drifts into Katie English doing layers of bass flute.  There’s a sense of ebb and flow. Some parts are less noisy than others but I think it maintains a sense of unease throughout.

EFE: You say that Chester Himes is an endlessly interesting figure? Could you expand on why this is?

MK: Well, his life story is fascinating.  He ran the gauntlet of great adversity throughout much of his life and continued to push through and create.  His early books, which received very little recognition initially, are great.  To me, they have a sense of honesty, a lack of boundaries that didn’t confine him from pulling apart anything.  Nothing seems sacred.  The crime novels, which I love, are in a way the same.   But with the crime novels it’s all embedded in this sort of gratuitously violent, often very humorous writing.  Within them are bare-bones insights of great honesty.

EFE: When talking about the albums you’ve picked you often mention experiences of seeing them live. Does the experience of seeing music live better bake it into your memory? I’ve got this weird semi-belief that if I buy a record or CD at a gig it gets soaked in the performance and is given it some extra magic when you listen to it later at home.

MK: If a show makes an impression then I think you want to retain that experience for sure.  So how you capture that can be done in a variety of ways.  Like you say, through getting their music. I do that and I think it does embed that experience in some way. I also try to recreate some sense of what’s had an effect on me by recreating my experience through my own music.  I remember a friend and I who both loved chanson went and saw Juliette Greco.  That was an amazing, powerful, atmospheric show. Just her, accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier and pianist Gérard Jouannest.  Now we were both massive Brel fans so sitting in the same venue as Brel’s piano player was a bit like a religious experience.  Anyway, certain songs that night made such an impression on me that I tried to take my own sense of them and inject that into what I do with the band.  I will never be able to play like Jean-Louis Matinier but you can crudely navigate your own creations with the impressions other artists make on you I think.

EFE: Do you aspire to the fearlessness of Robert Wyatt’s method of music-making? ‘Burrowed Into The Soft Sky‘ seems to me an example of an artist bravely pushing beyond their usual work.

MK: Thank you.  Well I think Robert Wyatt is pretty incredible. As for fearlessness, ‘Little Red Riding Hood Hit the Road‘ seems like a bunch of incongruent things coming  together in a certain way that sit perfectly well beside each other. It’s magical stuff when it comes together well and that song is a good example of what I’m talking about. So yes I guess I do aspire to that.

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