Recursive Textural Alchemy [2016-11-21]
British experimental musician Robin Storey, the man behind the Rapoon project and former member of avant-garde sound-scape collective Zoviet France, was one of the first to pioneer a style of mesmeric ambient electronic music utilizing delays and looping techniques, sustaining fragments of sound until they became vast environments. Storey has remained quite prolific to this day, releasing several albums of new (and rediscovered old) sounds a year. He was kind enough to provide thoughtful, thorough and elucidating answers to my questions.
M[m]:What was your live set up when Rapoon began, as opposed to now? How are the visuals for your live shows created?
RS Live set-up when Rapoon began was based around a four track cassette portastudio. (Tascam 426)Small instruments and a microphone. A simple sampler (Yamaha SU 10) was a later addition. Everything was mixed through the desk part of the portastudio and tapes used were very much live improvisation as I am useless at labelling the content of tapes and so every time it was a surprise.
These days I use a small mixer with effects ( Alto 12-4-2 FX ) so that I can still do all mixing live on stage. I generally use one microphone into the desk and one into the front of house desk. There is a further microphone on the sampler/keyboard I use ( ..a Korg Microcomoser.) I use a Mac laptop running Ableton Live and a controller for the software (Akai apc mini) I still bring small instruments to play live and the Yamaha SU 10 is still going strong. I just bought a Korg Volca sample player so I am looking forward to incorporating that into the performance.
Everything is improvised on the night. I don’t have a “set’ as such, just a hard drive with lots of different sounds and files on there that I use at random.
M[m]: Since the early days of Zoviet France, the sound you've created has expanded to become an entire genre. How has it effected you that the number of isolationist drone and ambient recordings has skyrocketed? What has motivated you to remain involved with this sound for 20+ years?
RS I work pretty much in isolation. i don’t really follow trends or keep up with the scene. It’s funny that the early work we were doing as Soviet France has evolved into something approaching a genre…we worked in the dark too and were surprised anybody listened.
M[m]:What are your sound sources and processing tools of choice? I have a lot of acoustic instruments that I use for sound sources. Most of the Indian, Arabian sounding stuff is me playing ethnic forgeries.
RS Almost all vocals now are mine , twisted and re-pitched to sound like something else. I still occasionally plunder some old recordings given to me by a friend of some genuine Arabic stuff. She also gave me some wonderful old recordings of Indian classical. They were the vocal sources for Dream Circle, but mostly I rearrange recordings i have made myself.
RS Spoken word material is slightly different . I have used David Icke and Joe Frank as spoken word sources but I also write a lot of my own stuff and treat the voice to sound different. I used the text to voice app on a Mac for Disappeared ..I liked the robotic quality and it fitted the theme of the text.
RS I use mostly software processing. Pro tools is the DAW of choice and I have a ton of plug-ins (all legitimate..) I still like mixing from one Mac to another through an analogue desk and effects as this often works in a way you can’t capture with software alone .
I have recently bought a nice software controller for mixing within Pro tools and also a great controller for Live (Base 2 ) which is so neat you don’t hardly have to touch the laptop, just about everything can be done with the controller. including editing loops and writing and rearranging drum patterns on the fly.
It’s got big brightly lit pads and LCD faders so it looks great too and there are no moving parts to get busted when packing for a live show.
M[m]: What is the meaning of the name Rapoon? Is there music you've created that you feel should not be released as Rapoon? Do you have any inclination to create a radically different form of music or art? What are your projects outside of Rapoon?
RS The name Rapoon came about quite simply because my nephew couldn’t pronounce my name properly when he was about two years old …it came out sounding like ra-poon. The name just stuck.
There is music I have created that I don’t feel should be released under the name Rapoon but then I usually change my mind and release most of it anyway. I never wanted Rapoon to be backed into a corner as I
felt things had become with ZF. One of the reasons for leaving was to use rhythms. I secretly enjoy playing jazz trumpet and blues guitar but I don’t plan on making an album simply of jazz and blues. There would
have to a framework idea behind the album before using such elements.
M[m]: Your music is often said to have tribal and primitive roots. As time goes on, it seems you have incorporated a larger number of drum machine rhythms and guitars, thus grounding it in the present era. Was your music ever intentionally 'primitive'? RS It was pretty tribal and primitive to begin with ..I still like improvising live with an array of small instruments drums, flutes, etc. I have lots of stringed instruments and sometimes use these percussively. Beating the strings with chop sticks for example.
It makes for a kind of ethnic feel and I have an old microphone that I hack sawed out of a 1950’s suitcase 1/4 inch tape machine. This microphone is great ..its sounds authentically like 1950’s ,1960’s field recordings .
Master musicians of JouJouka.. Brian Jones recordings for example. I used this microphone a lot for ZF recordings too. It’s one of my favourites.
M[m]: What music do you most commonly listen to? I very rarely listen to any music but when I do I love the voice of Alison Krauss singing old traditional bluegrass and gospel. I love the voice of my friend Tatyana Stepchenko singing traditional Russian folk songs.
RS I like quite a lot of Brian Eno..Another Green World and Another Day on Earth particularly ,but my favourites are still Can, especially Soon over Babaluma which I never tire of.
M[m]: What was your earliest music like? What is the first equipment you bought? Did your parents support your efforts? Where did you work before you were able to make money off of your creations? RS The very first equipment I bought was that 1950’s suitcase 1/4 inch tape machine. I was a quarter track machine and a friend of mine who was good at electronics covered it for me into a four track machine.
RS I think it cost the princely sum of £15 which would have been a lot in those days. I was 14 years old. I worked on farms so I had my own money. My school teacher in the village gave me a quarter size guitar and a flute from somewhere she had visited on holiday.
I had a drum from somewhere…these were about my only “instruments”. I had to find somewhere out of the way to record things..no-one knew what on earth I was trying to do.
I recorded the geese on the marshes and slowed them down and added flutes and stuff…
I left home at 18 and my parents were never put in the onerous position of having to support my efforts. I went to art school.
I have had many, many different jobs in my life. All of them have been a means to an end ..but some have been rewarding in different ways. I especially enjoyed my 18 years as a freelance Audio /Visual engineer..though the hours were gruelling.
I have worked on and in Farms, Moss works, Bakery's, Design rooms in City Council offices, Theatres, Set painting, Conference design and lighting, Sound re-inforcement, Teaching Sound design at University and probably lots I can’t even remember ..
I still have to work part-time to support the music. …these days I am working with small children. Nothing whatsoever to do with music, but I do end up drawing a lot of pictures for them.
M[m]: I often see the gently repetitive nature of ambient music as a counter to a culture of overwork and excessive time management. What is the meaning of this repetition to you? Would you say your music has a political implication? the repetitive nature of some of the ambient .
RS The music I do is intended to induce a sort of meditative, trance-like state. I feel very strongly that our culture is far to self serving and dysfunctional. How can anyone think it’s right that there are people who have to rely on food banks
in order to feed their families while there a few privileged people who have millions and who hold all the power.
I get very angry about the state of the world. I am a socialist. I have included some political rants in a way throughout my work ..Media Studies wasn’t just about David Ickes somewhat dubious belief in extraterrestrial rnance it was more about the political and social manipulation the media employs to either support the status quo or tear down those that threaten the norm. The vile attacks against Jeremy Corbyn by the BBC lately have only proved how far they are prepared to go to keep the political institutions functioning in favour of the few.
M[m]: What is your opinion on the nature of dreams? What are your dreams like?
RS My dreams are fantastic…I love dreams ..Sometimes I can remember them in great detail. Recently it felt like I wasn’t getting any sleep because as soon as I clocked off in this world and entered “dream world” there was little difference.
Only subtle and slight variations of possibilities. I didn’t feel like I had been asleep at all. I felt totally worn out …thankfully things are back to normal now and dream world is the lovely escape it should be.
M[m]: I find the creation of music to be as much the building of muscle memory as any conscious thought process, and that ambient music in particular is created largely intuitively. Would you describe your style as improvisatory? RS It’s a mixture of improvisation and composition. I much prefer to start with improvisation and see where it will lead. Accidents happen ..unintentional things ..sometimes something drawn from subconscious memory.
RS Arranging everything afterwards into a cohesive album is just as much a part of the creative process …sometimes themes develop that are entirely unexpected and I always try to go with my intuition.
I have to have an idea of what an album is about..what I am trying to convey> Spoken word is often a staring point but really it could be anything.
M[m]: What is the idea behind the "Moon and Cups" series? What made you want to release a 7" EP?
RS The moon and cups series came about because I was asked to do a 7” vinyl release by a label (UltraMail Prod) and when I suggested I base the music on the megalithic rock carvings , which are in abundance where I live in NE England, the label owner suggested a series of 7” releases.
We decided on a series of 4 and I based the music on visits to sites in Northumberland, particularly Lordenshaw where whole areas of the hillsides are covered with exposed rock faces all of which are intricately carved with cup and ring glyphs.
These places inspire a real sense of the past and of the understanding of cosmology at the time they were carved. Many have been identified as accurate depictions of the relationships between some star constellations and galaxies visible through the naked eye.
The sites themselves are always located in beautiful parts of the wild landscape of Northumberland that I have grown to love so much.
M[m]: How did the collaboration with Pas Musique come about? What was the creation process of that album like?
RS I first met Robert Pepper (Pas Musique) when I was on tour in 2011 and played in NY. Robert had organised the show and we became instant friends and kept in touch. I was invited back to the annual Experimental music Festival in NY the next year and our friendship strengthened. I invited Robert over to England to come and stay at my house and visit the Roman Wall and the other ancient sites nearby. We walked for a long way along the roman wall and stopped off at Vindolanda ( a roman fort/town)
We recorded some improvisations in my studio back at home and these became the base for the Vindolanda Tablets. Robert had suggested we make a sleeve out of wooden panels and I told him the story about the discovery of thousands of wooden tablets that had been found preserved in the peaty soil at Vindolanda. These tablets were the equivalent of Roman shopping lists, love letters , postcards, to-do lists.
A huge variety of everyday life recorded and preserved ..priceless.
Hence the title of the collaboration….our own record of being in that wonderful piece of countryside
M[m]: Do you think we've passed the point of no return with this planet, and that this is the final age of humanity?
RS I truly hope we haven’t passed the point of no return but I think there is suicidal approach to plundering the planets resources for the profit of a few. That needs to change and change quickly.
This earth is a beautiful place full of wonderment and yet some only see materialism and profit. We need a revolution.
There is nothing to lose.
Thanks again to Robin Storey for doing this interview. There are four Rapoon albums thus far this year, "Song From The End Of The World", "Waiting By The River", "The Vindolanda Tablets" (with Pas Musique), and "Wanderlust", as well as two 7" vinyl EPs entitled "Moon and Cups Quarter 3" and "Moon and Cups Quarter 4".