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.
￼Jonny Maybury formerly ran the Exotic Pylon label, which was a prolific and ever-surprising nexus of fruitful imaginative sounds, alongside parallel radio shows and club nights. Jonny is now one-half of Psychological Strategy Board, a duo with Exotic Pylon radio co-host Paul Snowdon, who makes spectacularly strange art as a sculptor and painter as well as surrealist, cracked synth explorations under his musical alias, Time Attendant.
Earlier this year, Psychological Strategy Board released their debut album, a soundtrack to Richard Kovitch‘s documentary, Penny Slinger: Out of the Shadows. The film successfully casts light on the unjustly forgotten work of artist Penny Slinger and in particular the circumstances leading up to the creation of her incredible photo-collage work An Exorcism. The soundtrack to this film was commissioned by Richard Kovitch after hearing a track by Psychological Strategy Board, the group having to put their music together from work-in-progress cues from the director as well as channelling the work of Slinger and her contemporaries. PSB are a perfect fit for the film; their clanking, claustrophobic, night-soaked electronica, which often suddenly shifts in mood, effectively mimics Slinger’s visual juxtapositions.
Now, as a gigantic asteroid plummets toward the mid-atlantic, let’s hastily stumble down into Psychological Strategy Board’s bunker to talk about their catastrophe selections, along with their own music, art, and politics.
Paul Snowdon’s Music Selection
1. My GRM Bernard Parmegiani Box Set
The first early electronic/music concrete I really fell for was by Parmegiani, courtesy of Ian (Moon Wiring Club). I’ve listened to a lot since and nothing tops Bernard. Compositionally it’s astounding, especially when you consider the techniques that were available to him. His music can absorb any style or texture like some great living electrified organism. it is both elegant and wild.
2. Herbie Hancock – Sextant
Explorative electric jazz funk jams with synths that forces your body to move in several directions at once. It kind of defines that bloopy, animated, alien sci-fi sound that I so love, tribal yet futuristic, I would emerge from the bunker clasping this LP, doing a raindance.
3. A Psychedelic Black/Doom metal Compilation
I would spend my last few hours before going into the bunker compiling this comp. It would most certainly contain some tracks from Dodheimsgard, Oranssi Pazuzu, Atomikyla, Cough, Monolord, Cathedral, Paradise Lost, Danzig and Black Sabbath to name just a few.
4. Tony Oxley Quintet – The Baptised Traveller
I was going to choose The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane – Turiyasangitananda for my fourth selection but recently I’ve been listening to The Baptised Traveller again by the Tony Oxley Quintet, this album is one of my all time favourites. Despite being wild and free, it has such a melancholy feel throughout and somehow reminds me of the Yorkshire brass bands my grandad used to play in. It has a very English sound I think and totally brings to mind the blowy rolling hills and grey sky’s of the north.
5. Time Attendant – Bloodhounds
Rather self consciously, I would take one of my own records as a measure for any music I may be making in the bunker. It would be a good motivator and a reminder of past achievements and friends that helped me along the way. This album in particular would remind me of an England I once knew.
Jonny Maybury’s Music Selection
1. Hip Hop / R&B Mixtape
Tinashe / Westside Gunn, CONWAY (everything around the Griselda label really) / Cult Mountain / Flatbush Zombies / Janelle Monae / SZA / Cardi B / Ramson Badbonez & DJ Fingefood / NSTASIA / Chloe X Halle / SiR / Strange U / Saba
I listen to very little experimental music these days, whatever that even means. Maybe I’ve just absorbed enough. Anyway, rhythm will always be my thing and as soon as I fell into rave so many years ago now it’s been impossible to extricate myself from that passion. So really all that I have listened to and kept track of over the last 5 years has been R&B and Hip Hop (the latter of which in the last couple of years has druggily lurched into an astonishing golden age). In R&B I can really feel all the E-addled textures that I used to love in rave and jungle which have been gloriously redirected to cosmic android sex music. NSTASIA’s New Religion EP I have listened to at least once every day since it came out a year ago – she’s like Ghetto Del Ray and sounds like Sean Connery and the title track is just beyond anything – this utterly sublime piece of ambient digital soul – god, she’s just amazing. She has just released an acoustic version of that EP though – I really hope she doesn’t continue down that road as I couldn’t give a crap about acoustic music. I hope that post your apocalypse we still have electricity or I am going to really struggle.
2. Virgin Ambient Series
Extraordinarily vast-ranging series of artist and artist-curated albums dropping on Virgin in the mid 90’s. Starting with 3 mildly mundane compilations and then they dropped Kevin ‘The Bug’ Martin’s Isolationism compilation which is basically what ‘dark’ ambient should be if it hadn’t adopted the bloody silly name of Dark Ambient. David Toop’s Ocean of Sound albums plus the greatest soul compilation of all time (Sugar and Poison) plus a few of his own beyond inspirational solo albums, several astonishing Paul Schutze albums, Martin’s Jazz Satellites compilation and Techno Animal‘s parallel universe ambient-industrial leviathan Re-Entry blah blah… How I approach music creatively and how I think about sound was forever forged in these quietly conceptual, brilliant CD’s.
3. Girls Aloud USB stick
My Girls Aloud USB stick will have every GA song except their bloody awful cover versions, all of which suck. I once had an argument with an entire pub (honestly) about why Girls Aloud were a better band than Spice Girls. I realise now that was a real dumb position to take as Spice Girls were just dreadful and really I should have pitched GA against the Stones. And the Stones would not come within a galaxy mile of touching Girls Aloud. So yes, the greatest British pop group of what, the last 20 years with Biology being one of the greatest pop songs of all time. Like ABBA (although, ABBA, of course, prone to many flights of darkness) there is no mood that I can’t be lifted out of by Girls Aloud. Xenomania, their production and songwriting team, are genii and what they achieve time and time again is a form of techno rock. Do you remember back in the day when every shit indie band sold out their non-existent ideals and became ‘dancey’ and the result was just the same silliness but with a baggy beat? Well what those bands were half-arsedly trying to achieve actual sees its realisation in Girls Aloud. From No Good Advice: “I don’t need no good advice / I’m already wasted / I don’t need some other life / Cold and complicated / I don’t need no Sunday trips / Tea and sympathizing / I don’t need no special fix / To anesthetize me.”
I will never not love this band. [ALSO, half of Nicola’s solo album was truly brilliant and that girl knows how to write a tune].
4. Drum & Bass Selection Vol. 3 / Routes From the Jungle – Various Artists compilations / Guy Called Gerald – Black Secret Technology
D&B Vol. 3 is more jump-uppy ragga-ish Jungle whilst Routes from the Jungle is the blissed-out ambient end of things but still of course absolutely manic. Drum & Bass taking hold as a name was of course the beginning of the end moving from imagination to musicianly description. I have never and will never love a genre more. As one who has always stood for mutation in music, I couldn’t listen to it in genre. I liked the cliches, I didn’t like the development. They lost the breakbeats and turned it into techno and it’s stayed like that for like 20 years or something, which is just bizarre. Jungle turned the night into sci-fi and taunted human bodies with rhythms it couldn’t understand. All the critics went loopy for the Metalheadz and Roni Size albums both of which were OK but this is meant to be heard in a goddamn club, loud and off your mash and lost in spectral neon not in your bloody living room. Apart from A Guy Called Gerald and Black Secret Technology, the exception that proves the rule and one of the greatest albums of the last few decades. I know we’ve just released one and everything but I don’t really care about albums and never listen to them from start to finish. “My mind aint nuthin but a big ‘ol collage” as New Kingdom so eloquently announced. The rise of Juke / Footwork is just the most joyful thing ever – it feels like an eternity since dance music really tried to fuck with the body rather than placate it.
5. I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age Music In America 1950-1990
Most obviously visible in the work of Lieven Martens (Dolphins into the Future) and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith I have just been overjoyed to see New Age music beginning to take a foothold in contemporary music. Much like Easy Listening and Library Music, Easy Listening commits the most heinous of rock’n’roll crimes by being music that is composed and produced to have a specific effect. This makes it not ‘authentic’. The scope and beauty of this album is just beautiful and mind-blowing – what has really sent me with this music is that it feels like a new emotion – it’s not an atmosphere you are used to hearing in western sound as it’s about surrender but not in a nihilist way, not in a drugs way and not to a lover – it’s about letting yourself float into a beatific ether. Larkin’s Two Souls Dance is the ultimate representation of this. Paul has Alice Coltrane in here somewhere doesn’t he – it’s not dissimilar moodwise really. Although, Alice can really bring the fucking noise.
Paul Snowdon: The Poetics Of Space by Gaston Bachelard
This was the first academic book I was told to read on arriving at University in 1995, at the time I was making paintings based on a given space/rooms atmosphere and dimensions so it was a good recommendation. This book should help me look beyond the bunker, to “see with the soul of the eye” as it says on the back cover! I’m drawn to books that allow us to see the everyday in different ways, a close runner up would be Al Alvarez’s Night: Night Life, Night Language, Sleep & Dreams. I’ve constantly returned to Bachelard over the years, his writing convinces me that I’m not as stupid as I sometimes think I am, for a short while anyway.
Jonny Maybury: Everything by H. P. Lovecraft
Bloody hell, Michael – ONE BOOK?!? OK well if it’s just one let’s take the master of Cosmic Horror so I can remind myself of the twisted impossible geometries of countless unspeakable universes, our feeble existence in an uncaring universe and monstrosities so alien as to be impossible to describe in words that we’ll still give it a bash over many pages. Since Paul has a runner-up then so do I which is the Complete Robert Aickman (which might replace HP on any given minute) and the collected works of Nietzsche. Oh and Ocean of Sound by David Toop. Oh and.. OK I’ll stop.
Paul Snowdon: A Modular Synth, I may need a portal of some kind so that I can take delivery of those extra modules.
Jonny Maybury: Well, given this is a luxury, I would like a massive MASSIVE TV with streaming access to every film ever made. And Twin Peaks Season 3. Which still has me in the recovery position.
Ears For Eyes: And now, a chat with the duo. Could you cope with the isolation in a bunker?
Paul: Probably, yes. I could wake up whenever I liked, mooch about, not have to go to work and generally live a fully unstructured life. I guess the confines of the bunker would get me in the end though.
Jonny: Hmmm. I have definitely become less socially driven than I used to be but it’s vital to interact with others I think and grave problems occur when that doesn’t happen. And as mentioned earlier – music became a wholly social experience for me once I fell into rave hence my love of radio – everything that is important to me is as a result of community of some sort so I would not enjoy the isolation as a permanent situation no. But the rest of it – no work, no government and a chance to embrace the Gnostic chaos of the world away from the hideous dumbass nonsense of Capitalism – yeah bring it right on I’m in!
Ears For Eyes: Would you remain creative?
Paul: Hell yes, what else would I do? I’m pretty disciplined when it comes to these things and, in my experience, solitude only enhances the drive to create.
Jonny: Musically, in the conventional sense, no, it’s unlikely. Making music does not come easily to me and I have to be in an incredibly calm and peaceful state of mind usually and that’s rare. Well actually maybe it’s not as rare as it used to be. But given, you know, the whole apocalyptic scenario, I think my background in philosophy would kick in and so I would likely start writing again. My real passion in music and sound has always been radio, so to broadcast without parameters would be a dream come true and would likely be my immediate inclination. Also, maybe that would solve my interactivity concerns from being in the shelter. I guess it would only be one-way but that’s fine – I prefer that with radio anyway – I like the ‘is there anybody out there listening?’ mystery.
Ears For Eyes: If you emerged after a number of years to find a band of cultists obsessed with your music and art awaiting you and your leadership, what society would you build with them?
Paul: I would start by inviting them all in to said bunker to witness my latest exhibition, The Solitary Years! I would have to charge an entrance fee though as I would probably need some dosh at this point. Then what would we do….? Err…Yes! We would become a self sufficient, high-tech society, known for our fine wooden robots. We would specialise in natural highs, build synths, make art, cultivate coffee and tea and eat a ton of trifle.
Creativity would be valued above everything else and Mondays would become illegal, we would have two Sundays, or at least i would, I’m not sure anyone else would be invited.
Jonny: Holy crap, I would run a fucking mile. Well, first I would tell them all to belt up and to realise that if authority and leadership had finally been stamped out to not start it up again. Antonin Artaud a philosophical renegade who collided with every facet of culture in the first half of the 20th century wrote a beautiful very short essay ‘No More Masterpieces’ – slavery to the past, reverence for inanimate objects, the mummification and idolisation of art of all mediums presided over by a coven of patriarchal classicists – goodbye and good riddance forever. I mean, that’s nice that so many people liked our music to form a cult but… no no no, you have to tow the Groucho Marx line and never join a club that would have me as one of its members.
Ears For Eyes: How did you become involved with Front & Follow? [the label releasing the Out of the Shadows soundtrack]
Jonny: I stumbled across F&F in the early days of the Exotic Pylon radio show on Resonance FM when I was still pretending that I wanted to be a normal radio DJ. As my ideas changed, Sone Institute was one of the earliest live guests I invited to play. So Justin [Watson, F&F boss] and I have been in touch for a very long time now and the Watsons are wholly kindred spirits. Time passes and Justin asked if I wanted to do a remix of a Doomed Bird of Providence EP which just goes to show what an a) lovely and b) insane person Justin is. I didn’t feel motivated to work on this by myself so I asked Paul to join me – we had been improvising for a very long time on the radio by this point so it just seemed wholly natural. And at that point Psychological Strategy Board was born, as was my love for long tune titles bordering on the slightly absurd. The Watson Marriage Project (aka F&F) have just been drop dead phenomenal with us throughout. It’s been truly humbling and incredibly rewarding for Paul and I. I’ve never experienced music from the point of view of being an artist and having to focus on the creative end of things, so this has been a wholly beautiful experience.
Ears For Eyes: Your earlier Collision/Detection EP, released by Front & Follow, in the notes, thanks the Italian Futurists. What about that movement is significant to PSB?
Paul: As far as I can recall, we were listening to ‘Musica Futurista’ The Art of Noises, a CD I bought from the Estorick Gallery in Islington; I’d been to see an Italian Futurist exhibition, on display were some of Russolo’s noise intoners (intonarumori), you could wind them up and hear them howl, (I also did a Futurist special radio broadcast on NTS at the time). So all this was revolving around my head and It just seemed to encapsulate what we wanted to do with Psychological Strategy Board: something mechanical, raw, relatively unmusical but with a pretentious concept to offset the primitive sounds, bollocks to good taste, we thought. It’s a cheeky thanks, but would be reason enough for me to buy an album with such an inscription.
Jonny: What he said. And… well Futurism I see as tenet of Modernism which is basically the last time that a wholesale drive to abandon classical narrative was embraced across every conceivable art form.
Ears For Eyes: Paul, you are a sculptor and painter as well as a musician, are your sculptures and paintings connected to your music? Does one influence the other?
Paul: They are connected, yes; for many years the art and the music felt very separate. I think mainly because I wasn’t able to make what I thought was the musical equivalent of my visual practice, but slowly over time they have migrated towards each other. This has helped immeasurably in terms of, not understanding either, but just knowing what I’m producing is somehow honest and relevant in relation to my reality and that’s all one can do really, isn’t it? Gladly, a handful of people have confirmed this for me, commenting on how my art looks like my music sounds, for instance. So one practice informs the other, rather than influences; they are born of the same interests and obsessions. So what are these interest and obsessions, I ask myself? Well, it’s not that clear cut, one skims the surfaces of many things, different art forms and styles in the hope that something sticks. Sometimes it’s just, ‘oh I haven’t done that before’ and you’ll recognise an element of something from elsewhere, the curve of a line reminiscent of art deco style design, for example, or the placement of a block of flat colour that just screams Modernism.
Often, I’ll enjoy the references the music and art evokes, especially when I can trace them back to my everyday life. Some of my small scale sculptures for example are a clear reflection of the industrial buttons and switches on the machinery I operate at work, suddenly I’m thinking about how to represent functionality in a non-functional object.
Ears For Eyes: Paul, your exhibition Mass Adaption in 2016 saw you hang mysterious sculptures around the walls of a derelict house/gallery like religious objects, while a tape of your music played to an empty room. Does your work have an interest in the spiritual? How does it inform what you do?
Paul: I think to be continuously creative throughout your adult life for little or no monetary reward and for that creativity to be more than just a hobby, then you have to believe in something that counters the sheer futility of the act of making, otherwise you would just stop being creative, as many do, so in this sense spirituality is an energy.
I’ve always been interested in abstraction, I think it’s the intangible nature of it. I’ve never been interested in representing reality as we see it, another version of what everyone already sees just doesn’t seem interesting to me, why limit your thoughts to only what your eyes can see? I prefer the search, the moving around of shapes, and sounds for that matter, until something in your brain clicks, shouts, “that works stop there!” Does this sound spiritual? I think it might , you don’t know why a particular formations of shapes seems right, it just does. As a piece develops, I nudge it this way and that, until I see something that transcends the material parts in front of me. The object can then take on meaning by communicating something else, something more than just it’s physicality. So spirituality, maybe industrial spirituality is more accurate, the manual operating points between the mechanical and the living, the stop and start buttons, the numerous fine adjustments, this disappearing interaction point, this is what interests me, it seems like a magical thing. [Mass Adaption: New Works by Paul Snowdon & Deepa Chudasama was at Safe House 1 & 2, run by The Maverick Project in Peckham.]
Ears For Eyes: How do you go about constructing a Time Attendant track? Are they composed and thought out in advance or the result of improvisation? Is there a particular idea you’re reaching for under this alias?
Paul: Often the initial spark is a simple sentence I might read somewhere. A good example is the track The Ragwort Staggers from the Ruby Modifier album; this title came from a John Clare poem in which the author describes being drunk on Ragwort as “the staggers” [from A Shepherds Calendar]. So, from this i knew i wanted the audio to be a single stem like that of a plant and to make the rhythm skip and stagger in an unpredictable way. Other times, I will start by playing around with my setup, swapping effects pedals around, amplifying clicks, EQing until I find a palette of sounds that interest me. I’ll then dial in a sequence and manipulate the sounds further by maybe applying control voltage to the sequenced notes for variation or set some notes to trigger randomly, what I’m looking for at this point is a kind of controlled abstraction. I’ll then impose some kind of structure on the sounds by adding a beat or repeating loop. From this point on I’ll press record and begin improvising with the chosen sounds, adjusting oscillators, envelopes and gates, adding white noise etc.
I might record several versions of the same thing, listen back and decide what works and focus in on that and record some more. Finally I’ll put all the audio in my DAW for editing, mainly adjusting levels and removing any bits that don’t work, at this stage I might add some field recordings for further textures or to suggest a narrative.
Biotic Electronics is how I would describe the Time Attendant sound. I’m looking to produce an evolving growing music that is abstract but earthy. Something worn and weathered, natural and mechanical, altered and otherworldly full of imperfections and chance but purposeful and deliberate.
Ears For Eyes: You’ve done a number of tracks with Dolly Dolly – he’s thanked on some of your records and provides vocals to Hexapod Star Shuffle from your Treacherous Orb EP. You also recently exhibited some of your art at the Bookartbookshop where Dolly Dolly did a spoken word performance. How did you come to work together? What do you see in each others art that suits collaboration?
Paul: I met Dave ‘Dolly Dolly’ Yates through Myspace many moons ago, so he has known my music from very early on and was always very encouraging. Soon after i met Jonny (Maybury) who invited me to play live on Resonance FM, this soon became a regular slot for me, so I invited Dave over to get involved, the three of us produced many radio shows together as Exotic Pylon with Jonny at the helm. Jonny and I encouraged Dolly’s spoken word practice as it was just so unusual and he was talking about the things we were interested in; Surrealism, the Occult, English customs. So when I needed vocals for a track Dolly Dolly was the natural choice. Dave also arranged my first proper gig at Readings South Street Arts Centre in 2009 supporting Moon Wiring Club and Seeland. Over the years we’ve helped each other out on numerous projects and long may it continue.
Ears For Eyes: Jonny, in an essay, included in the release of F&F’s Lessons compilation, you say running a label is ‘fucking mad’. What drives people to do it?
Jonny: Well the concept of an independent record label (and I am absolutely referring to independent) is just a huge fucking disastrous mess of irreconcilable components. Let’s not forget that a record label is a ‘business’ and that is immediately where all your problems lie. An independent record label should by its very nature be an attack on corporate thinking – it’s embedded in its very existence and I struggle to believe that if a label doesn’t have that buried in it somewhere then it is not a very good label. So you are running an anti-corporate business based on releasing pieces of art with absolutely zero idea of whether anybody will be interested in what you have to sell and you have NO idea EVER if anybody is going to like what you are so passionate about. And even if they do like it, there is no guarantee they will buy it. And you chase publicity through the medium of reviews (which should be (but rarely are)) there own form of art. You have no guarantee of getting reviews, of these reviews being good or bad, and even if you do get them, still no guarantee that anybody will buy these things on the basis of reviews. Oh, and the week you release your record / tape / CD / digital there are another 700 releases. I’m not even getting into the practicalities of dealing with artists who, of course, can be sensitive creatures at the best of times. You pour your heart and soul into a label – this is a passion and you BELIEVE in this thing – it’s a philosophy – it’s not something you do for a laugh – every aspect of it is a thing that is at stake – it reflects how you want the world to be – it’s basically a massive fucking fight from day one, and it can be heartbreaking. And there, in all of this – you have to make money. I hated promotion and didn’t want to do it but you have to. I hated having to ‘sell’ the music that I released (in a commodity sense of the word). The one thing you don’t even believe in. Yeah it’s fucking madness. And when it works it doesn’t even work. That’s the paradox. Look at Tony Wilson and Factory. Never anything other than being on the point of collapse. And it changed a city. When I ran my label, my eventual ambition was that high (not to change a city, but same scale). I didn’t even get off the starting block in that respect. I would do things very very differently if I did it again and would not be part of any of the parameters that you have to subscribe to to get these things done.
Ears For Eyes: you’ve working under intentional constrictions with PSB. What was used in the making of Out of the Shadows? How did this help the project? Does having boundaries on a project generally aid creativity?
Jonny: Restriction is the mother of invention. Paul used a couple of Mono Synths with some effects pedals and his DAW when editing. I restricted myself wholly to loops generated from samples of other people’s sound. Oh yes, and we also used objects to make sounds that either of us might utilise. I’m not a musician at all and when recording the album not even really that competent with Ableton so that personal limitation was turned to advantage. We played everything live often out into a room mic in the centre of Paul’s flat and back in again. What editing Paul did then was with complete tracks – so no layers or stems so sadly we can’t get that Ed Sheeran remix we were both hoping for. It’s really hard to explain what happened when something worked and didn’t work.
When you’re avoiding all kinds of things like melody or narrative, what’s the thing that you are looking for? But anyway, with all those parameters in place, it really pushes you to dig deep into sound and atmosphere both individually and then obviously in combination. And, in this instance then, Paul’s flat is both an instrument and a composer. Since composition is also something that we were wary of conceptually. The danger of working with loops in a non-rhythmic sense (by that meaning without the intention of wanting to create something you could dance to or something beat-orientated) is that it just becomes static or clunky but the music keeps moving and morphing. Obviously, Paul is not locked into repetition the way I am but even so if half the noise is just spinning sound I’m kind of shocked that it came out the way that it did. Parameters are vital to anything we do and this will always be the mainstay of PSB – the parameters themselves might shift from project to project (as Paul mentions elsewhere, for the gigs we’re really attempting to hold back) but yeah, restriction pushed you to dig in deeper ways. Digital tech allows so much choice – allows you to go anywhere – and that that can be incredibly forbidding. I can’t recall the name of that totally nuts album Bjork made that was entirely composed out of the vocal sounds [EFE: Medúlla] but that’s a great example of a restriction being liberating. I think it’s been interesting for Paul because he’s always composing anyway and that pulls him out of Time Attendant mode into my dumbass world. It’s how we’ve always worked though. The Exotic Pylon radio show was every week at a set time with a set length and we never discussed or prepared. We set up, our guests set-up, we started it finished. So for us actually this is pretty standard.
Ears For Eyes: Could you describe what it was like to be nominated for best music for Penny Slinger at the British Independent Film Awards last year?
Paul: It was all quite confusing really, there wasn’t much information to see and we knew a soundtrack as niche as ours wouldn’t win.
Jonny: That was an entirely a WTF moment. In the end, it was won by obscure American composer, Carter Burwell, who has so far only scored films by unknown directors like the Cohen Brothers. I really wanted to win so I could see Paul in a tux and we could get to drink a ton of free (presumably) really nice booze.
Ears For Eyes: Paul, you appeared with Dolly Dolly on a recent Kit Records tape Errata that was inspired by mistakes and error. What roles does chance and error play for both of you in PSB? In the Out of the Shadows film, her art is described as a ‘combination of intention and divine accident.’ Is there a similar combination at work in PSB, or any of either of your works elsewhere?
Paul: Yeah for sure, we embrace chance. As Psychological Strategy Board we are doing exactly what we did on the Exotic Pylon radio show, we turn the machines on and make some sounds, only now we have parameters and a desire for what we do to sound a certain way and in the case of the soundtrack, guidelines.
At the moment we are practicing doing nothing, don’t fiddle for the sake of it, if you get a sound, a loop, a sequence right, be patient let it run, knowing when to make a change in a piece of music, an improvised set that comes with experience, as anyone who has played live will tell you.
Jonny: Chance is beyond vital and essential to the conception of PSB. In fact the whole raison d’être of the project is to remove as much authorial control as possible (I’m obsessed with this) – hence us only working to commision thus far. Out of the Shadows is at the service of so many other voices – Penny and the artists around her and Richard Kovitch’s directorial impulses. As Paul says, this grew naturally out of our work on my radio show over almost five years – at that point I had zero technical ability of any description and actively encouraged an environment of chaos. But that was my mindset anyway. Paul anchored it. Over the last year, I’ve begun to learn focus. And what Paul says above about holding back – that can be quite nerve-wracking especially in a live environment – but it’s all about listening and not intervening – if the thing is working let it play out. My approach to sound my whole life has veered towards maximalist and this is definitely shifting now. This I want to explore a lot more now.
Ears For Eyes: Given the choice, what films would you re-soundtrack and why? Either individually or as PSB.
Paul: Annihilation – So that we can make the bear scene even scarier! The whole Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer really impressed me, it was definitely a source of inspiration for both my art and music whilst I was reading it. [EFE: for an interesting article on the Annihilation soundtrack, read this Slate interview]
Jonny: Obviously sound design has to be a vital component if it’s a film I’m going to love. Given that, I would love to soundtrack Last Year in Marienbad which is just a film I worship but the organ score I can find grating. And now that I’ve typed this I’m going to put this to Paul as a potential project. So thanks Michael! And also Henri George Clouzot’s L’Inferno which was never completed but there is a fabulous documentary with all this incredible footage – Clouzot basically taking a very small story of jealousy taking hold early on in a marriage but blowing it up visually with all these incredible modernist effects, colours and techniques.
Otherwise, PSB should soundtrack at least one Marvel film and all kinds of popcorn movies. And now that I’ve just seen Infinity War, I REALLY WANT to soundtrack that, especially the closing 20 minutes. If you think about the Bond movies when [John] Barry was soundtracking they have a scope and an expanse far far beyond the films themselves that are variable at best, featuring a character who is frankly a total prick. But that music changed my life and we should be screwing with perceptions on the big screen. It’s astonishing how truly uninspiring 95% of film soundtracks are. Forbidden Planet which is like a million years old is still the most radical soundtrack I can think of.
Ears For Eyes: What other ‘lost’ or under-appreciated artists would you like to see better recognised? Why do you think some artists are elevated to posterity and some slip away from notice like Penny Slinger?
Paul: The obvious answer would be Austin Osman Spare, seems like most people know his art through underground music thanks to John and Sleazy of Coil collecting Spare’s work, certainly that’s how I know him. Books on his work are always printed in limited numbers making them rather unaffordable and are mainly found for sale in occult book shops.
In Penny’s case it was a conscious decision to move away from the London art scene after various tragic events occurred, that and the people that compile and write about art historically, maybe not delving enough into underground culture and female artists. There are many reasons why an artist gets forgotten, If one is part of a larger art movement then you’ve a better chance of being remembered, half the YBA artists wouldn’t have a name for themselves now if it wasn’t for those early warehouse exhibitions that Hirst had a hand in organising.
Jonny: I entirely concur with Paul re: OAS. Also, the aforementioned Artaud (although what you would even categorise him as being is kind of impossible).
Ears For Eyes: How did you conjure the sounds from Penny Slinger’s images? You had the abstract guidelines from the director during the making of your album, but how did Penny Slinger’s art guide your choices and methods?
Paul: For me, immersion was the key, all we really did for that period outside of our day jobs was record our sessions and think about the music we needed to make in relation to the guidelines. I was charged with collecting all those recordings together and editing them into final tracks. Jonny’s knowledge culturally is much broader than mine, so I relied on his scatter brain approach to research and the fact that he already knew half the people surrounding Penny and her art.
I looked elsewhere for inspiration, music that tonally was near to what we wanted to achieve, the Italian Futurists as mentioned previously, C M Von Hausswolff’s Operations of Spirit Communication, Current 93’s A little Menstrual Night Music, Nurse With Wound’s Bright Yellow Moon, Pythagoron on Creel Pone, Black to Comm, as well as seemingly unrelated films such as Bill Morrison’s Decasia which is very much about the body and its slow degradation.
One of the tracks on our album: The Body is the Body, was originally filled with Jonny’s expletives, as we were recording through a room mic and in the background we had Jacques Cousteau’s The Silent World, a late 50’s deep sea exploration documentary, playing on the TV. In one scene, he was just battering the hell out of this massive fish, I think it shocked us both but Jonny was more vocal about it. I cut out the swearing during editing but left some small fragments in there, the beginnings of words ‘‘Wha…”, “Ffuu..”, “Sshi..”.
Jonny: Despite all my contributions being samples, I didn’t prepare anything in advance and pulled those out of nowhere during the recording sessions for the album. Taking my advice from career lunatic Scott Walker, I didn’t listen to anything for inspiration over that period of time – in fact I was probably just listening to ABBA or rave or something like that. I lived in Penny’s images and just found myself utterly possessed by Jane Arden’s The Other Side of the Underneath, which continued to haunt me for months afterwards. Entirely unique and impossibly disturbing. I also read quite a lot of R D Laing one of the prime movers in the Free Psychiatry movement in the 60’s and I think a figure of inspiration to Penny and comrades.
Thing is, as Paul mentioned, immersion was the key. I like overloading on sound and vision so we had things running on the background on Paul’s screen. We were just on another plane recording this thing. It was a very strange experience and like most profound experiences in one’s life, you don’t always appreciate the significance of it whilst travelling through it. Hearing the album now is still just so bizarre – to hear yourself in a different time, in a different place – really in a wholly different life is eerie beyond comprehension.
Most vitally though is of course collage. Avoiding narrative, melody and standard notions of composition it really felt like we were gluing sounds together. I keep saying we composed live and we improvised which I suppose we did but it really does feel like we were just sticking layers of sound together. And that bleeds through into the editing with Paul having to work with blocks of noise rather than separate strands.
Ears For Eyes: You’ve spoken about an addled and fractious process making the album but also how an impasse was broken. How did Daphne Oram unlock the dead-end you’d gotten into?
Paul: Much of Oram‘s work is instructional and/or for commercial use, jingles etc. It’s well established that she was a pioneer of electronic music and as Brits we should be well proud of that. When I listen to Oram, it’s mainly for research purposes, to know the history as it were or to take a sound or idea and repurpose it. To have access to all of Orams work online for academic and research purposes would be a great thing, but to release a quadrupel vinyl set for £40 plus seems to take the biscuit a bit, I know because I bought it. I joked to Jonny once that it sounded like she just sped sounds up or slowed them down, so when we did this to some of the sounds on the Penny Slinger Soundtrack it became known as the Oram Effect. In fact it transformed one of our tracks into a momentous final tolling, turning the ticking of a small plastic egg timer into the grandest of grandfather clocks! So thank you Daphne.
Jonny: Unthreaded Time (Object Uniting) is THE Psychological Strategy Board tune. Which makes me think that we might need to shift the concept. It was the piece that caused us the most trouble and that brought a halt to the recording process. It’s crazy really as it’s the last piece on the album, the last piece we recorded and the last request from Richard. And of course it features at the end of the film. It was the most specific instruction we received which was that Richard needed something redemptive. Well, we had been working in a dark sandpit but redemption – well – that’s emotion in motion – it’s transitional – it’s movement and a truly difficult thing to realise in sound when your project is trying to void conventional recourse to melody, song-writing etc. By this point we were exhausted and mangled and we just kept trying all kinds of things. And then we thought we had something – I found the perfect sample – I channelled a piece of music from 100 years earlier which had the perfect soul. Bizarrely, the piece is so slow but the loop was fast and it just didn’t work. We had burnt out on each other’s company a little and we stopped. And then Paul Oramed it (with a few extra sounds). The significance is that this thing didn’t have any emotional impact AT ALL until Paul did the most mechanical thing imaginable and just slowed it down. He sent me a Eureka text and everyone found their redemption. For me though, there it is – the power of that piece comes from samples, non-musical sounds and all gaining resonance through a basic effect. But that power is there and so where the hell does it actually come from…
Ears For Eyes: The finished version of the Out of the Shadows soundtrack is one of many possible configurations of the tracks you recorded. Will this other material guide any future music-making for PSB? Are there any plans for doing more work together?
Paul: Yes, we can only build on what has come before. Collaborating on Resonance FM set the foundations for the Collision/Detection EP, this then fed into the making of the Penny Slinger soundtrack. One slowly builds momentum starting each project from the endpoint of the last one, each time shifting the emphasis of the sound to reflect whatever it is we are working towards.
Hopefully there will be other projects we can get involved in, we’ve had some ideas but nothing concrete has been planned.
Jonny: I couldn’t be more enthusiastic to do more. Out of the Shadows as wonderful as it is, has taken up the best part of a decade and we’ve just not been able to move beyond it until it all came to fruition. I have played live before but never like this and now I really want to explore the ambience of the second half of our Oto set [EFE: PSB played before a film screening of Out of the Shadows at Cafe Oto]. We have a couple of ideas for recording and you know Paul and I actually work fast (and it’s essential to the project anyway) but this has been so bizarre – so many years. It was a relief to find that when we played live we still sounded like ‘us’. And the forthcoming live sets, though related to Penny, are also us moving away from that.
Ears For Eyes: The US government’s Psychological Strategy Board in the 1950s was established to coordinate operations that involved influencing public opinion. Do you operate in this way? What psychological operations do you have planned, if you can share any of your more unclassified projects? How did the making of this album affect your psyches? How would you wish to affect others? This reminds me of the ‘panic ambient zone’ from the notes to your track Canary Wharf as Abandoned Chrome Ruin After A Century Of Acid Snow.
Jonny: One of the weirder aspects of collaboration (especially for Out of the Shadows when it’s almost 5-way) is intention. Paul and I discussed very little about what we were doing, other than whether or not each individual piece worked or didn’t. So I have intentions and Paul has intentions – we both have stakes in this but we don’t discuss these and I doubt we ever will. I don’t think these intentions are mutually exclusive either (well some of them can’t be or we wouldn’t have worked so closely for so long). But in collaboration, how much of those intentions can survive? For me this is complicated even further by my lack of trust in how much an artist is even present in his or her own work. Psychological Strategy Board was a very deliberately chosen name so it is important to understand that this is more than just a sonic project and I personally sometimes have very specific motivations. Canary Wharf As Abandoned Chrome Ruin After A Century Of Acid Snow is a good example of this. Kenneth Anger has been a source of inspiration to me for several decades and that tune is a burn. And that’s all I want to say about that.
The panic thing, I find really interesting – that has been entirely unexpected but was a vibe that seemed to consistently come out. We don’t make fast music and I think panic is quite a speedy emotion. But it was really there. I wonder if that has passed now – I’m not sure it was present so much during our gig and it’s not constant throughout the album.
Ears For Eyes: At your Cafe Oto gig, we spoke about the odd synchronicity of your Penny Slinger work taking place between royal weddings. If PSB is guided beyond its control by the acts of royals, what does the impending birth of another regal spawn hold for you? What will PSB birth in its turn?
Paul: Maybe we can soundtrack the public-funded renovations of one of HRH’s many dwellings!
Jonny: I think the baby should be named Psychological Strategy Board. The birth means two things for me. 1) I need to stick my head down the toilet for the next 3 months so I don’t hear or see anything about the demonic thing. 2) What Paul said.
Ears For Eyes: The Deptford basement in which your album was recorded is an interesting mirror of the haunting/haunted house Penny Slinger’s work An Exorcism was made in. How do surroundings influence your work? Could you have made that music only in that specific location? Milford House, the setting for An Exorcism in the Out of the Shadows film is described as a ‘container of inner space.’ A physical journey as an instigator for psychological travelling is a very J.G.Ballard sort of notion. Does his work have any echo in yours?
Paul: I think we were very aware during the making of the soundtrack that our surroundings, that Deptford flat, were leaching into the sound, not just through the occasional use of a room mic but psychologically too. To put it plainly it was uncomfortable, the flat was a small basement bedsit on the high street opposite the station. It had that living, dripping feeling to the walls. It was very cold because I couldn’t afford to run the storage heaters, it got hardly any natural light which made the cold atmosphere feel damp. The corridors of the block were never cleaned and occasionally frequented by homeless individuals looking for shelter, there was mould of course and no WIFI signal. The garden if you can call it that, was often overrun by foxes, the adjacent garden was covered in giant buddleia plants, standing about 8 feet tall which helped block out even more light. I once attempted to cut the buddleias down leaving sharp spikes, the next day I found a sad Canadian goose impaled on said spikes, I had to grab hold of it and pull it off the spike as it was still alive. Christ, I felt bad, the goose was later put down which is actually standard practice for a non native species, regardless of its injuries. The flat was full of paintings and music though and we were in walking distance of each other so I do have some fond memories of it. I think the music would have turned out very different if it was recorded elsewhere.
Jonny: I mentioned earlier that that space was as much a creative tool as anything Paul and I did. When Paul and I focus on gathering sound it nearly always involves us walking and recording. We make our own rudimentary field recordings and geography and location are a vital component of the project. This isn’t something we ever discussed it’s just something we do. For a thousand different reasons I moved to Margate last year and it’s had such a pivotal effect on my life that I feel like a totally different person. Environment is everything.
Ballard’s impact on my life is impossible to overstate especially the early sci-fi culminating in the concrete novels. It’s future-shock from – Ballard is always linked to early 80’s synth pop which is of course apt but he’s resurrected sonically in Jungle (I mean it’s right there in the name itself). Ballard is dangerous – I feel like over the last decade his amorality has been walked back by critics (and the fact he was writing for The Guardian etc.) but Ballard’s protagonists always embrace chaos, embrace the apocalypse – there’s a reason Burroughs loved his work… I have to say that after enjoying it to begin with I have come to dislike Ben Wheatley’s High Rise especially the ending with the Thatcher broadcast playing out over the shot of individual tower blocks. Now, I am hardcore left-wing but those books are not political – I wish an eternity in hell for Thatcher but Ballard’s moral ambivalence is where the power of those stories lie.
I have most of his work with cover art by James Marsh – these beautiful surreal images with huge blocks of colour – just so incredibly appropriate and perfect. And it was James Marsh who then went on to do the extraordinary cover art for all of Talk Talk’s great albums – Colour of Spring, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock – the height of rock music as far as I’m concerned.
Ears For Eyes: Another speaker in the Out of the Shadows film says ‘when Englishness goes weird something very interesting happens.’ Would you speculate on what sort of things this might be talking about? Is there a weird englishness at work in PSB or any of your other works? Is this an identity of englishness that could be held onto by those of us horrified by the upsurge in a nationalism that seems very alien and frightening?
Jonny: With a lineage starting with Acid House through rave, techno, jungle and dubstep, parallel with UK hip hop and grime the mid 90’s became dominated by…. Britpop. So straight white boys with union jack guitars banging on about The Beatles (whilst astonishingly not even being able to capture even 1% of their sound) Everything I previously listed could and should have been described as britpop. We’re right in the middle of entirely fascist behaviour around the Windrush farce springing out of vans driving around telling ‘immigrants’ to ‘go home’. Dial back ten years before Jungle and you have Morrisey and The Smiths – now we know how that has now ended up but Morrissey was always coming out with dodgy shit from day one and he still has very vocal fans that would not consider themselves to be endorsing this kind of behaviour. All that cover art eulogising a Britain that never actually existed all based around an era when the Windrush generation would have started having a cultural impact. I’m not saying this in itself is necessarily nationalism but left unchecked and unexplored – the root is the same. In the years that I was reading the music papers like NME, Melody Maker and Sounds you could count on one hand the amount of time a person of colour would have adorned the cover. Maybe double that for a female artist…
We’ve been linked to Hauntology more than once (and certainly at Resonance I was very involved back in the day) and that is a prime example of a genre exploring weird Britain. And that is a movement that has produced extraordinary music but at the same time you can feel a line being walked that could easily topple into seaside postcard nostalgia. But Hauntology in it’s formative conception by Simon Reynolds and the desperalty missed Mark ‘K-Punk’ Fisher was inspired by junglist artists like Rufige Kru and then people like Ariel Pink who is from the US. Weird Britain has come to be associated primarily with stranger strains of folk and the occult and this is fine of course and has produced some amazing music. But Gaika is weird. Tricky, when he’s on it right, is REALLY weird and could not be more British.
I’m not sure it’s up to us to say if we connect to weird Britain but certainly up to now, everything we have done is definitely about Britain. That is something that happens when we work together. And I can say this because this definitely does not happen if I’m working alone or with others. I can’t comprehend PSB not being about the UK in some way or another.
But I guess what I’m trying to say is that nationalism is a facet of every country and this can be counteracted by pulling out aspects of that same country that nationalism seeks to ignore or suppress or is just plain ignorant of. What concerns me is that the huge amount of work that is being done around the weird still seems a little overly white and male. I mean the very reason we’re answering these questions is around a female artist who had dwindled into obscurity. I simply do no think this would have happened to a male artist of Penny’s calibre. And the weird is in every corner of the globe too. Whilst PSB may be about Britain I am not interested in endorsing any kind of Englishness whether it be positive or negative. On a personal level, I just don’t think along these lines and never have done.