Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cyclobe — An Interview with Ossian Brown

Ossian Brown is a musician, known for his participation with english experimental group Coil. I Already shared my love of this group in this blog. The influence of Coil on experimental music, be it dark ambient, neofolk or electronic music has been tremendous. Since the departure of Coil, I felt there was a void waiting to be filled. It is no exaggeration that Cyclobe (the association of Ossian Brown and Stephen Thrower) may very well be the new torchbearers of this unclassifiable pagan experimental music. I had the chance to ask questions Ossian Brown about his project and his coming participation at Meltdown 2012.

How did you get to play music with Coil?
Is it there you got to know Stephen Thrower?
Playing in Coil was the most natural step, I was very close with Jhonn and Sleazy, we all lived together in West London so it was very intimate, it felt like the most organic progression to be in a group together. We all trusted and felt safe with each other, we also had a lot of similar interests. Our imaginations spun off together in very enjoyable and excitable ways, very much so between me and Jhonn. That's something I miss enormously now they've gone. So living together, spending so much time together, and with us all being artists, naturally we'd conjure up lots of ideas and plans we'd want to collaborate together on. I met Steve through Jhonn and Sleaz, Steve used to come to the house a lot and stay over for days at a time... It was his home from home for the majority of the 80s. 

Recently you had a lot of exposure for your book Haunted Air, a collection of antique Halloween photographs. How did you start collecting those pictures?
Well I've always been a bit of a magpie, filling my homes up with pictures I find interesting, photographs and objects, old rags and buttons I find. With my Haunted Air pictures, when I first saw them I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing, I really couldn't. The ones that appealed and stood out to me seemed so complete and alive, not a single element earthed them or dampened the magic they expressed to me.
They felt completely supernatural, riddled and buzzing with revenants - they became my wraiths and strays. After finding one and feeling completely astonished by it, I found another and on it went for years, it was like tapping into a ghost artery. They overwhelmed and excited my imagination, as they did also to David Lynch. They go straight in! Geoff Cox was incredibly encouraging and supportive from very early on, we felt very protective of them. I showed them earlier this year at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, in an exhibition called Read Into my Black Holes.

When did you start making music as Cyclobe and what prompted you and Stephen Thrower to start this project?
With wanting to be close in as many ways as possible, there was no way on earth we wouldn't have worked together. Our first recording sessions together were in a hired studio in South London. some of the experiments we did there turned out interestingly, they where encouraging, but there was nothing we felt at that point we really wanted to share, it felt like we where just touching on the areas we wanted to explore, just scratching the surface. A few fragments from these sessions appeared on Luminous Darkness. It became clear to us very quickly that we needed our own studio though, so we could spend concentrated amounts of time working on pieces together privately, without that pressure of a ticking clock or having to consider and relate to strangers, however accommodating.

You created Phantomcode, a label for distributing the work of Cyclobe. Why did you feel the need to create your own label? Do you eventually plan to release other artists on Phantomcode?
I'd like to say we would release other artists on Phantomcode, one of the difficulties though is time. The label is completely independent, and we only have a small amount of help from our friend Daniel Mars, so although we'd love to release other work, in order to record Cyclobe which is very time consuming, to create our releases and send them out into the world, that's about as much as we can manage presently. Perhaps things might change and we'll be able to get more support one day, for now though we pretty much do it all.

There seems to be a lot in common between the music of Cyclobe and Coil. In the themes and the desire to experiment. Do you see Cyclobe as a continuity of your work with Coil? If not, how is it different?
Our motivation is to try and create music that essentially moves us, that transports us in a beautiful and overwhelming way, sound that perplexes us, shakes us. We want to make a very organic and alive sound, that oozes and seeps into the normal and transforms space, takes you out of time, so it's enveloping, like a giant Crab Nebula. So much of what we do I feel has a sense of reverie, I really want to convey those feelings in our work, Cyclobe for me is devotional music.
   There is a continuity, a part of us is very much in Coil, with the music we worked on together and the ideas we shared and developed back then… and the same works in reverse of course, with those influences and shared experiences together revealing or manifesting themselves subtly in what we do, feeding into the creative process's we explore now. It makes sense there should be finger prints, atmospheres echoing though. Coil is part of our heritage, our family blood line, so it would be foolish to say it's not present and an influence.
   It feels more like light refracting through a piece of quartz though, but seen from slightly different angles. We might be peering through the same crystals but the effect is unique to the work we do in Cyclobe.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Wounded Galaxies Tap at the Window has an alien atmosphere that reminded me a lot of the work of H.P. Lovecraft (like something menacing trying to invade our world).
Quite a few people refer to H P Lovecraft’s writing when they've talked about our work, that's fine. Steve would certainly embrace that description - it’s not something I feel personally, although he was without doubt a great American writer, both me and Steve have loved his books. Clark Ashton Smith was one of my favourite fantasy writers, he was a good friend of Lovecraft’s, and an artist and poet, also published by Arkham House. A Star Change is a wonderful short story for instance.

There is a lot of unusual ethnic/folk instruments used in Cyclobe, can you name a few?
Rebabs, Hurdy Gurdies, Diples, Duduks, Tulums! A lot of this is thanks to Cliff and Michael. Michael’s also a craftsman and often tailors instruments for our pieces specifically. He has a wonderful collection of instruments a lot of them he's made himself. We've been incorporating this kind of folk instrumentation since our earliest recordings though, it's something we're very much enjoying bring to the forefront now with our music. We first started working with Hurdy Gurdies on 'Inevitable Black Horn', on our first album in 1999. Hearing Cliff Stapleton play, the tunes he wrote was a big inspiration for me.
   Those instruments are so evocative and pagan… made from goat skin, fur lined bags full of your breath, bodies carved out of wood, spinning wheels resonating, heating up and vibrating your body, against your belly. I find them so moving to hear, they effect me very deeply, they're so full of emotion and history. I play a Pajot lute-back hurdy gurdy, it's around 150 years old. When Michael plays his Tulum, you can smell Pan in the studio, it's very exciting.
   It's also good though to be taking these instruments into new areas, playing them in ways they weren't intended, seeing what else we can conjure, blending them with other instruments, sounds we've created.

What can we expect from a Cyclobe live show?
We'll be making our first live performance here in England this August at Meltdown, invited by Antony [from Antony and the Johnsons] whose curating the festival. It'll be our second performance in 13 years, we don't come out often! I always been incredibly nervous about performing Cyclobe live, increasingly less keen to be out in large public situations as well. We've become very hermetic in recent years.
We couldn't say no for Antony though, whom we dearly love and have such great admiration for. Antony's so brave and fearless… such a unique and essential artist. I think Antony's put together a fascinating selection of artists this year.
   So many great and inspiring female performers, underground queer artists, and very driven visionary musicians as well, like David Tibet for instance with his new group Myrninerest. They'll be playing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with us, along with some magical and rarely seen super 8 films by Derek Jarman.
   Our evening is called 'ALBION - HYPNAGOGUE - GHOST: Hallucinatory Queer British Paganism’. We'll be performing pieces from our last album 'Wounded Galaxies Tap at The Window' along with some new work, including a collaboration from our next album to be released in Spring 2013, performing with a very special guest which we're extremely excited about. It should be beautiful and telesmatic… an evening of mantrical moon pieces!
   It's been fascinating recently, to hear our work developing, transforming them into compositions that can be performed live.
   We're going to be working visually with artwork by Fred Tomaselli and Alex Rose, projecting films by Anna Thew and David Larcher, a very beautiful piece of film from his 'Mare's Tail' and Anna's arboreal meditations, her Equinox and Solstice films. I've felt very hesitant to play live since Coil, those shows could be very intense, very stressful emotionally. With Cyclobe, since then, I've been the stick in the mud really, the goat boy dragging his hooves, until Antony surprised us with such a flattering invitation.
   We'll be performing with Michael and Cliff of course, but also with Dave Smith from Miasma and the Carousel of Headless Horses, and our good friend Ivan Pavlov from COH, Sleazy's partner in Soisong.

What are your favorite music albums?
They change from week to week, I'd have to say though The End, Marble Index and Desertshore by Nico are three really important records for me, they exist out of time, there's nothing comparable. She could snuff out the stars with those songs, such beautiful, haunting and devastating work. At the moment I'm listening a lot to John Jacob Niles, Jimmy Scott - and Moondog's ‘A New Sound of an Old Instrument’, Moondog always. I think I've listened to that album more than any other over the years. I'm playing a lot of Billy Holiday right now, Sylvester and Sun-Ra, the Turkish singers Bülent Ersoy and Selda. Lal Waterson has a very special place in my heart.

Cyclobe will be performing at Meltdown festival in august 2012
Photo credit: by Ruth Bayer
Artwork: Alex Rose

1 comment:

  1. I've only just found this interview! Excellent stuff. Couldn't get to London for the gig, but am very much into what Cyclobe are doing. Thank you.