|| Scotland's Greatest Mystery
|| Akiho Ishii
"Scotland's Greatest Mystery" was an interview (in Japanese) by Akiho Ishii originally published November 2005 in Loud Magazine Number 131 pp.32-35
Scotland's Greatest Mystery
Note: The original magazine was scanned to PDF. That PDF was sent to an online OCR tool to be converted to Japanese character text. The resulting text was translated on a basic level by Google Translate. That translation has been rewritten and interpreted into proper English by Toni Lanov.
From Scotland, two musicians, two artists. The group consists of Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin. Their seminal album, Music Has The Right To Children bought with it new horizons for electronic music. Their second LP, Geogaddi expanded these horizons further, and finally we have the newly released The Campfire Headphase - an Album which feels like it is the product of an eclectic catalogue of influence consisting of The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix on one side, and My Bloody Valentine on the other whilst still being deeply rooted in within their realm of electronic music.
The tone and sounds are introverted, calm, expansive and sometimes in direct contrast to previous releases. It feels as if we are constantly searching for an aural representation of the textures and feelings we experience daily, something that Boards of Canada deliver with subtlety and precision. In this interview I try to gain a better insight into the sounds they create and the minds of the artists who convey them.
In focusing on your previous work, I found that there was a significant contrast between previous releases and The Campfire Headphase
. It is an album that comes three years and eight months on the heels of Geogaddi
. How has the time between releases been spent, do you find adequate time between work and finding comfort? After listening, I found an instant need to express what I had heard. It is as if a cassette that was created long ago was suddenly discovered. Can you describe the influence behind that?
Mike: We usually have a rough idea between us as to the direction of our music. We share a great many influences and as a result are usually on the same page.I was deeply affected by American Cinema from the late 1970s through to the early 80s and a wide range television shows from my childhood. I recall in quite a number of television shows at the time, images with cars, deserts and glowing skies appeared a lot, and synthesizer music often accompanied it. The Campfire Headphase
borrows heavily from the era and the atmosphere.
What are your feelings on the album from your own perspective, rather than that of a listener or what your intentions for the listener are? Is there any particular formula you find that works best for creating music or is it more spontaneous?
Marcus: Most of the tracks on this album come from spontaneous ideas quickly kneaded whilst jamming in the studio, we then tend to spend quite some time completing it while remaining very conscious of not allowing the original idea, the basis of the track, to become overshadowed in the process. After we recorded Geogaddi
, there were more than several songs left over from recording sessions that weren't used in the album and we wanted to finish those and complete another album. During the creation of the album, Mike had a child, but I still had time to make a lot of music.
It was a pretty wonderful time for making music, actually. It all started in Winter. Jamming with a cheap tape recorder to try and take note of ideas as they would present themselves. At the initial stages of recording, Mike had been in New Zealand for a while, so I created the basic melodies and ideas behind some of the songs that would later go on to be on the album.
What are your feelings in regard to the contrast between this album and your previous works? How would you describe the general atmosphere of your album as you want it to be heard by you audience?
Mike: In a way, the body of the album is a soundtrack to a roadtrip that takes place within the mind. This time, we decided to make it in a more simplistic manor than Geogaddi
. It certainly is in contrast with the darker nature of Geogaddi
and I liked the idea of a positive contrast between the two by focusing more on simple melody and textures. Geogaddi
was as it was because that is what tends happen when you make an album whilst being constantly aware of the concept behind it. I guess that something without a concept is an concept of its own, is it not already? Sometimes it is good to narrow down to a more limited palette to a certain extent by focusing on one concept, but at the same time that can also be quite constraining.
"I believe that I can escape the daily routine of life by creating music that will invite me into an imaginary place, a place where one can think of the more creative and surreal elements of reality" - Marcus Eoin
In a previous interview, we discussed electronic music more generally and you spoke of trying to avoid the culture of "laptop musicians". Has your attitude remained the same in regards to this?
Mike: Yes, for music to work, it doesn't always need the assistance of a computer. Obviously, there are some wonderful things coming from the unity of music creation and technology because it grants you access to vast arrays of audio technology in a very compact space. You can take it anywhere, but the underside to that is the fact it has a strong influence on the kinds of music people make. What people will tend to say about the people who are making music on laptops all having similar sounds, it implies that digitization is narrowing their horizons musically. Using a sequencer and synthesizer restricted to a grid, it is tantamount to restricting the infinite possibilities posessed by sound itself. For example, the Tempo of a track when you are working with a visual grid interface will always face restrictions, it is near impossible and certainly far more time consuming and unnatural to have a tempo that fluidly changes with the intensity of a track under those circumstances. If one could imagine that the Beach Boys or the Beatles were making songs using laptops during their golden age, how would albums like Pet Sounds and Sgt Pepper's have turned out? I think that generally digital music is cleaner sounding and polished but also far more inconvenient when working with anything other than a very limited type of music. There seems to be no sense of appeal or presence within a lot of the work. I think that concerts consisting of laptop music are generally quite boring. I don't really want to wait in line for a show that feels as if it just allows people onto the stage to press a play button and check their email for an hour. (laughs)
Mike: We took a step back from Geogaddi
. It was a darker and more claustraphobic album, so after that I wanted to create an album that was more expansive and hopeful. Its simpler and with a lot more aural breathing room. This album is a horizon where you can continue seeing forever. Every song we make develops our sound more in a particular direction, so we aren't going to find ourselves back in the place we have been sitting. The Campfire Headphase
was a manifestation of our moving to the next sound, albeit one that could be described as more simple and stripped-back comparitively speaking.
What meaning do you put into the artwork?
Mike: When you find an old photograph that has been exposed to light for quite some time and lost its hue and faded as a result, regardless of the context of the photograph, it always tends to cause one to feel a sense of sorrow. That is what we find ourselves constanatly looking for every day. Even in tracks that on the surface are generally quite cheerful, that natural decay creates an underlying sense of sorrow. The cover art is quite reflective of that, the appearance of a photograph that was once very colourful having been exposed to the elements and decayed over the passage of time to the point that it becomes impossible to imagine what the colours originally were. It is intentionally obscured. Given too clear an image, it deprives the viewer's sense of imagination from setting in. I want one to feel like they are looking at pieces of a photograph they have found themselves.
In the album inlays, there are pictures of various obscured faces, quite reminiscent of a childhood memory. Were they implemented to further compliment the sense of nostalgia and revival of memories that appear in musical form on the album?
Mike: Yes, I tried to create an intensity of emotional texture with this Album. Reminiscent of memories of memories, memories of when I had fun that have since started to fade away and this album is an expression of that bitter-sweetness as if it had been lost forever. Both our music and my personal attitude come from a perspective of retrieving and exploring memories of the past, including the decay and emotional texture that are added to them as time progresses.
In Scotland, the theory and thoughts surrounding animism have been present since ancient times. Does Boards of Canada's music have any correlation to such traditions and trains of thought?
Mike: I find it very interesting to toy with the idea. Culturally, Japan is the reason for my thinking that animism isn't suffering as much as previously thought, but I can certainly take and appreciate the Celtic culture of Scotland and Ireland. We are always conscious of mystery and the essence of life and the many different interpretations there are.
In regards to "Farewell Fire
", it feels as if it is a goodbye, something lost forever. What is the nature of the track?
Marcus: In a way, the track is a farewell whilst in a state of melancholy after the journey that preceded. It really ends in a way that makes it feel like one is still not sure what they are going through. It fades out in such a way as to be a "beautiful exit", but it lingers on subtly in keeping with the way one would hear a melody repeat softly in their head after repeated listens. It was designed to loop, almost eternally.
You have told me that you are living communally in rural Scotland. You originally lived closer to the city, but have since migrated into the living situation you find yourselves in currently. How did this come about?
Mike: When I lived in the City, there are certain subtleties that you don't realise make a significant difference if you are used to that situation, but definitely do. Urban noise and various other disturbances, it is as if you have lost your perception through saturation of the senses. Being away from technology is in stark contrast to this and it allows one some headspace. Of course, we still use the Internet, television and radio, it is not completely technologically isolated. It is a positive thing, especially for those who rely on their sense of sound and atmosphere, to be able to withdraw from the melancholy life that presents its self in the city.
What are the advantages of living in a commune?
Mike: Its not a commune in the conventional meaning of the word. It is just a matter of living with friends and buddies in the same space. Its a calm studio space where we can do what we wish to do. At the same time it has a surprising aesthetic, a lot of nice food, we also have a solid security system, but I am just trying to create a workable environment.
Do you find that Hippie culture and the psychedelic movements of the 60s affect your music significantly?
Marcus: Not really. I like a lot of music from the era, though. I think it was a very interesting period for unusual music and culture and it would have been really enjoyable for those that were teenagers at the time.
How do you feel towards the current electronic music scene?
Mike: I think the way technology made music work for everyone is obvious in a way, but at the same time in a lot of electronic music there is a situation in which you can't reach the real organic sound unless you trace it back through quite a string of components and effects.
Do you feel the ever-increasing popularity trend within electronic music is a positive? Warp have also signed alternative artists such as Maximo Park, do you like that they don't always confine themselves to one genre?
Marcus: I think that it is a good thing. A label should cater to many tastes, if I were to have strawberry ice cream day after day, eventually that would grow boring, one builds a sensory tolerance in that respect just as they do with music. People don't always want the same flavor. I feel that many people tend to misunderstand Electronic Music, and it is often seen as music that shouldn't be intertwined with any other genre. There is no necessity to quarantine it or protect it by metaphorical barricades. Good artists use everything to construct music, good music, and genres only tend to serve as limitations to that process.
Are you able to tell us your plans for the future?
Mike: We have begun laying the framework out for the next album. A project that we will see completed a few years down the line. It will be a work, an aspect of music, that we haven't touched on before. We also intend to potentially do some work in film. Also, I can't really speak in detail about it at the current stage, but there are some collaborations that we've been talking about over the past few years. Maybe a couple of live events, too. Oh, and the *top secret* side project is also in progress.