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".
So, here is the way this interview started…
I have a feeling you might be disappointed.
I actually have very few CD’s and Vinyls. My collection(s) got stolen twice, and i don’t listen to much other things… a couple of these have never even been played, whereas others are old friends.
I have a ton of stuff that I have been given over the years but i haven’t included these.
I’m not disappointed at all!! I will never stress enough the fact that Concrete Shelves is not about collecting, in fact I try to never use that term in the website and in the conversations, even if it jumps in naturally most of the times. I just love to have a look to people’s CDs, LPs or cassettes, and ask quesitons about, as I usually do each time I enter into any house, even if the guy has only a pair of Madonna’s greatest hits!
I So, it’s nice to see the ones you saved… You say that these in the pictures are the records that somehow survived. “Some are old friends”, you say. Maybe you mean the late lamented Bryn Jones / Muslimgauze and/or someone in the Krautrock area? I know you worked with Joachim Roedelius of Cluster and Harmonia, and I see a lot of kraut stuff here…
I used to have on vinyl every Can record that you see here, plus the “missing” Harmonia and Cluster albums, and I believe, just about every Kraftwerk album up to “Electric Cafe” on vinyl too. The surviving vinyl are few: the “2001 soundtrack” I bought in 1969 or 1970 and I guess that is my oldest ”survivor”. I bought replacements, over the years, on CD but I miss the vinyl mostly for nostalgic reasons rather than a devotion to the vinyl “sound’. I did used to have more Muzlimgauze on vinyl and CD but they were also victims of the thefts… Funny how they left some things? Maybe even thieves don’t want the “Missa Luba” LP [see one of the picture at the end of this article]. This particular double LP was the only copy I could find which included the beautiful opening of the Congolese Mass which features on the Lindsay Anderson film “IF” starring Malcolm McDowell. I like his character in the film… I just like the opening and don’t play the rest, especially the second LP which is just a South American influenced version of the latin mass and is really quite terrible.
Speaking of Malcolm MacDowell and Lindsay Anderson, I also have great affection for “O Lucky Man”, another Anderson film which stars MacDowell and has a soundtrack by Alan Price (ex Animals). I have this on DVD along with “IF”
guess the other categories of the ‘survival records’ are musics that explore the different faces of rhythms and beats, as you seems to have done with Rapoon over the years. I see African music, poly-rhythms… the Burundi LP or the “Kwaku Baah & Ganoua” one (that I really don’t know). Did you find some inspiration in that stuff, like Eno+Byrne did with “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts”, that I see here as well along with other from Talking Heads?
That Burundi LP was bought long, long ago in the 70’s because the collective drumming track on there also featured in a film (I forget which one) and I tracked down the source… (no easy matter pre- internet). It is the other tracks on there that had the most influence though… especially the female polyphonic acapella singing, which is both beautiful and otherworldly.
More of an influence was the Kwaku Baah and Ganoua LP: this has a track on it called “trance” which is long repeated cyclical rhythms. Someone gave me this (a dear friend from way back in art school days) and it struck a chord (ha ha!) because that was the way I played guitar and it was so good to hear someone else playing in this manner. All the contemporary people I played with, apart from this dear friend, thought I was pretty much useless on guitar as I didn’t play 4 bar blues or rock & roll tunes (not only did I not want to play like that: I couldn’t!). I still love this record, it’s timeless. Kaku Baah went on to play bass with Can for a while and although i saw Can with this line up a few times I think this might be his best work. That’s an awful thing to hear if you are the artist being spoken of “this was his best work”! I always think my best work is the one I am working on or the one that will come after, and I am sure most other artists do as well.
It seems that you also love soundtracks… I know you worked often in the field. But what’s that “Flaunt It” or “Sputnik” CD? Looks like a manga cartoon soundtrack!
I do love soundtracks, as you can see I talk about them all the time. I used to listen to films through the hi-fi and not watch the TV. I didn’t have one! There was a prototype cable company in the 70’s that had lille junction boxes in peoples houses. It was a pay for service and you plugged your ariel into the little box and got “streamed tv”. I think it was called “Redifusion”… anyway someone showed me how to open the little box and take an audio feed from it so I got free radio and tv services just without any pictures… I have “listened “ to many films like this. Most not good but some were great.
The Sigue Sigue Sputnik CD was given to me in the early/mid 80’s (actually by Ben [Ponton] of zoviet*france). They were supposed to be the next “post punk” phenomenon: they had some money behind them and like a lot of these things the idea was ok, but you can’t direct peoples tastes, so they did two singles, this album and then vanished. Funny though as they may well have been well ahead of their time with the Manga visuals and cheesy presentation. Also this CD is the one I sampled and manipulated to get some of the electronic rhythmic loops that are on Rapoon’s first CD “Dream circle”: something I have kept under my hat until now.
Wow! Sigue Sigue Sputnik… I remember they said in an interview somehting like “Usually moms tell their sons that the song they listen are all the same, but it’s not true. So we made a an album where all the songs are the same.” Geniuses!
By the way: I’ve always been so curious about the things you sampled over the years, but I guess most are secrets, right? Or maybe you even forgot. Anyway, discussing about trance and non-European music, I wonder what makes a ‘looped’ (repetitive) beat or melody sometimes so special, not boring. I mean: there’s something you can repeat hundreads of times and it’ll never get you bored (as in your compositions, in my opinion, and in a lot of non-EU music), and something that just doesn’t work. I think to Arvo Part, for instance, for me a master in that sense. Do you have any ‘rule’ in choosing the samples, or it’s just a matter of your sensibility, more a feeling?
Choosing samples is often a random process: putting seemingly disparate sounds and spoken words together sometimes works well, sometimes not so good, but I always try to incorporate an element of chance in every work.
An example of this is a release called “Andre on the Line”: I was in New York and looking around some music shops in Manhattan with a friend. The instruments were too expensive but outside the shop on the pavement there was a large cardboard box with old cassettes in it; they were priced at 25 cents each. Most were recordings of bands from the 70’s and 80’s but one stood out with the words “toxic algae” written on it. There was also a name: Susan Harris. I know someone called Susan Harris so I just bought that one cassette. It turned out to be a gold mine of serious and comedic (unintentional) vocal sources… poor Andre… I changed the actual timeline and made it so the poor guy never did get to say what he wanted on the radio and was thwarted at every turn.
Sometimes music loops are created by beginning with the space between the notes, or beats, ignoring the obvious loop points and trying to find new rhythms and structures within existing loops.
In the past I used to sample various ethnic sources (Indian, North African…). I still look for vocal samples but these days I play all the rhythmic structures myself so there is a never ending source.
I think the only way to tell if a rhythmic sample will work is to let it run a few times…generally you can tell straight away. You are right: it has to avoid becoming boring, so there must be something in there that continually engages you. Often it is only when various other elements are added and it’s the whole loop including rhythm and melody that works well. The elements on their own are not sufficient to retain interest.
Mixing with a delay that is at a counter rhythmic tempo and just catching the occasional transient also helps to keep a loop evolving and changing.
In the end, though it is down to instinct and although you can add various mixing techniques to add variety and interest to a loop, it is fruitless unless the loop itself works on its own.
So, let’s get back to the thieves: sad story. I think it might scare the hell out of most of the readers here, but… if isn’t too painful, could you tell a bit more about that? How did it happened twice? So they left part of the stuff… you guessed they had a sort of ‘good taste’?
The first time my record collection was stolen was down to some rather idiotic “painters and decorators” who had been employed by the landlord to decorate the flats in a house I lived in (actually the house on Wingrove Road where all the original zoviet*france members lived). I moved all my records away from the walls and covered them with sheets. They were just supposed to be painting the walls. I had to go out to work and when I came home almost all of the vinyl had gone. So I had my mate’s Peter Jensens said the painters had left the front door wide open all day and hadn’t challenged anyone who came in to “look around”, with the result that not just records, but many other pieces of equipment and possessions had been stolen!
The second time was in another flat in the same area of Newcastle (notoriously bad). This was just a simple break in. Kids I think. They left most things, took a few CD’s and Vinyl and left all of my recording equipment alone.
I moved to a much safer area and a flat with keypad entry shortly after that. I replaced some of the lost vinyl with CD copies, but I stopped actually “collecting” records after this. Now it’s more a case of accumulating them.
BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF ROBIN STOREY AKA RAPOON:
BORN 1955 IN CUMBRIA, ENGLAND
1974-1977STUDIED FINE ART AT SUNDERLAND ART SCHOOL
1979 FOUNDING MEMBER OF POST INDUSTRIAL GROUP SOVIET FRANCE
!992 -TO PRESENT DAY WORKED AS RAPOON . NUMEROUS SOLO ALBUMS/COLLABORATIONS IN FILM/DANCE
1977- PRESENT DAY /CONTINUOUS ARTISTIC PRACTICE IN VISUAL MEDIA.LAST EXHIBITION NEW YORK 2018
Photo by David Hall.
Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Regno Unito