Murmansk is a town in Russia. It's also the name of the flagship vehicle of Ireland's brilliant Deserted Village collective. Using an array of acoustic instruments, Murmansk have created three fantastic records of organic forest drones. It's the music of the trees, whining and wailing through the cold nights. There is no end to the dense amount of textures that Murmansk works into their long, contemplative pieces. This is music for falling autumn leaves. This interview was conducted with Gavin Prior, Scott McGlaughlin, and Dave Colohan in September by Brad Rose through email.
Gavin: Well, what's a collective? Itís just one of those handy terms really. The Village is sprawling and fairly loose, as in, half the people on Deserted Village releases havenít met and wouldn't recognise each other if they passed by in the street. None of us have ever met Odd Job because he lives in France. I met Phil from the Xenis Emputae Travelling Band (our next release) briefly when we played in England earlier this year but we just got to know him through trading. We do pool our resources, and money from sales and gigs goes into the Village fund.
Initially we just needed a name to put on our first release, the Murmansk CD-R. Dave Colohan is from Ballymahon, County Longford where Oliver Goldsmith lived when he wrote the epic poem ďThe Deserted Village.Ē Our logo is based on the typical bilingual signposts found in the Irish countryside.
The collective approach really kicked off with United Bible Studies. Dave and James Rider started UBS as a duo inspired by the Incredible String Band. Dave has a very sociable, inclusive approach to music-making and is always inviting people to play gigs and contribute to recordings, kind of like the Miles Davis approach, and heís almost as good a bugle player too! Eventually everyone in Murmansk was drafted in as a Bible Student. I'm quite sure we've never played live with the same line-up in my tenure with UBS. Shane and I both have Pro Tools at home so we started recording lots of UBS stuff, and there's plenty more where that came from. Thereís a pool of people who play solo or in different combinations and we help each other out. A lot of the projects have almost identical line ups. If I go along to an Agitated Radio Pilot session or gig, Iím going to play less and differently than I would with Weapons of Mass Destruction, for example.
Improvised music is by its very nature sociable and we continue to collaborate with people who have nothing to do with any other Deserted Village projects. Itís a great feeling to be onstage with someone youíve barely been introduced to when itís all locking together.
Scott: Gav, Shane, and Dave know more about this. DV is a collective certainly. Most of the projects are kick-started by one or two people who then call upon the others as and if required. Several projects came about 'cause the tape was running and we just kept playing. "Team Discovery Channel" is an example of this. After we'd played with Rhodri Davies in the Village HQ. Most of us had gone home but Gav, Dave, Shane, and Jonni just jammed on. The resulting session was edited down to the best sections and deemed worthy of release.
Dave: For me, music is a very social activity. Years spent home-recording did not prepare me for the profound sense of community being involved with Deserted Village has brought into my life. I think that we are a collective, a pool of forward-looking artists and musicians and writers who make each otherís lives better through creating and playing and traveling together.
Gavin: In late 2001, there was an AMM weekend in Dublin, which included an AMM gig, solo performances by the members and a workshop hosted by Eddie Prevost. Shane and I were friends and housemates in college and had moved to Dublin together. He got me to come along to the workshop in the afternoon. We knew nobody else there and I was very intimidated by the ten other experienced musicians and 'The guy from AMM.' I was really embarrassed because my guitar wouldn't stay in tune. I actually thought it necessary! Eddie and the 12 disciples played in various combinations. Probably due to nerves, I was being stubborn and obstinate and thinking 'fuck you old man.' The result was that I played really rigidly and less freely than I would have played at home, sneaking in melodies out of defiance. I even played power chords in a chugging semi-rhythmical fashion - yuck!
Now I think chords and melody ruin the delicate webs we weave playing freely. We have plenty bands to improvise melodically in, anyway.
Scott and Dave were friends from Galway and I think Scott knew Paul Mcgough (no longer in Murmansk) somehow. My first impression of Dave was this long-haired guy playing in a trio with Eddie who, at a particularly intense moment, threw his acoustic guitar across the room. I remember being unsure as to whether I wanted to know him or not.
That evening, Eddie Prevost and the workshop played support to Keith Rowe playing a solo set. I don't think it was very good but numbers were exchanged. Most of the good things that happened in my life since then, can be traced back to that workshop.
We began to record in early 2002 in a music lecture room in Trinity College where Paul was a student. They were glory days; we had access to killer condenser mics and a DAT machine from the Music Technology department and could do whatever we wanted in this room with a grand and upright pianos and a harpsichord, plus whatever we could haul up the stairs. Half the first album and Craterscrape were taken from those sessions.
I have known SeŠn ”g for years; he was in college in Galway with loads of my friends back in the day. The first Murmansk concert, (ĎGlass Valleysí on the first album) was in Trinity Chapel and SeŠn happened to be on the bill playing sax in some interactive composition thing. He seemed to like our droning and scratching so I called him out for a recording session in my house that summer. 'Fata Morgana' on the first album is from that first session with SeŠn.
I first met Johnny 'Malady' Dykes when he got Dave, Shane, and I to play as Agitated Radio Pilot supporting the Mountain Goats on a wet Tuesday in Sligotown. He was a friend of Scott and Dave from their days as students/slackers in Galway. In 2003 sometime, Dave brought Johnny along to a Murmansk recording session in my house and killer shit was recorded including 'Bowhead Whale, Beached.'
The Line-up has settled into the six of us but we occasionally have guest musicians along. It's actually fairly rare that the six of us make it to a gig or recording session but that doesn't really matter.
Scott: AMM came to Dublin for some concerts and a workshop in the project arts centre (about 2 years ago...?). I hadn't really tried free improv at that point but had seen AMM play Belfast years before and decided to check it out with a friend from Trinity Chapel choir (Paul): we'd been picking up on recent improv concerts in Dublin, a small but expanding scene at the time. We signed up for the workshop led by Eddie Prevost, about 12 people in total. I recognised only a couple including Dave (whom Iíd known for years through friends as a purveyor of the finest angst/weird-core, best songwriter Iíd ever heard and with 20 albums recorded in his bedroom!). Needless to say, that was a mind-blowing experience (I think I played prepared classical guitar). We got chatting to a couple of the other guys (they had electric guitars and little amps. I figured them for indie kids. They'd probably get bored...) and agreed to try it on our own. Paul managed to snare us a room in Trinity College music department with a grand piano (much abused by us!) and a harpsichord. We recorded there once a week for a term (debut album came from those sessions) as a five-piece - Dave, Shane, Paul, Gav, and I. Paul later dropped off due to lack of interest and increased workload at college. We lost the use of that great room and relocated to Gav's living room - took us awhile to get over the loss of the piano.Ö Jonni was an old friend of mine whom I coaxed in awhile after that. I've no idea when/where Sean came from, he was just there.Ö
Gavin: Excluding one-offs, I play in Murmansk, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Amygdala, United Bible Studies, Moment Force, Agitated Radio Pilot, and I make solo electronic-ish music and do the occasional remix as Cog.
Murmansk, Moment Force, and Amygdala are purely improvised so they just require that we be 100% present when playing, and careful[ly] listening when selecting and mastering material for listening.
Murmansk has only had two recording sessions and 8 (including one weíve yet to play) gigs this year so itís not a regular thing at all.
A Weapons gig is mostly improvised but we are supposed to be rehearsing and writing. This doesnít happen often enough as weíre all busy and our Drummer Bryan is so damn good heís in loads of other bands too.
All these projects are so much fun but itís a pain in the arse having all these unfinished albums on the hard drive. My duo psych-folk album with Shane and the fabled multi-tracked, proper-songs-with-lyrics UBS album have really been dragging on. Whatís even more of a pain in the arse is the amount of time I spend on the phone and e-mail answering queries arranging gigs and taking care of customer orders. Having said that, Iíve never done an e-mail interview before and Iím enjoying it. Iíll probably just paste this into all future interviews though.
Scott: I'm definitely in Murmansk and Snowmachine. Mostly in United Bible Studies. Been drafted into Agitated Radio Pilot. Might have been on other things too; hard to say really.Ö
I'm lucky in that the hard work is done mostly by the others 'cause I live in Galway. I get told to come up for recording sessions/gigs. Currently Iím working on a solo electronica project called Silica.
I want to see Daveís answer to that one. He's the eye of the storm.
Dave: My longest serving project is Agitated Radio Pilot which is in existence for well over ten years now and has mutated wildly over the years. Literally dozens of cassettes of varying, ahem, quality were recorded in this time. I am very proud of the recent recordings and reissues. Also, we now play as a full band and it sounds like what was in my head all those years ago. I also play with Murmansk, Arkhaengelsk, Holt, Children Of The Stones, Team Discovery Channel,Kroton Mammi, United Bible Studies. The Driftwood Manor is a new outdoors recording project. The important thing is that while, at times, members may be interchangeable in these bands, the music is not. Each has its own identity.
Gavin: Around the time Deserted Village started, I scoured some fairly obscure areas of the Ďnet and was intrigued to discover all these CD-R labels all over the world. Humbug was one of the first labels I stumbled upon and traded with. Anders invited us to send stuff in for Cottage Industrial Volume II and later to submit a Murmansk album which we were going to release ourselves anyway, so I was happy to be on the same label as Continental Fruit and the packaging on Humbug releases is usually exceptionally class.
Gavin: Being outdoors is essential for my health and sanity. It inspires me as much for living as anything else. Iím ever grateful to have grown up in the countryside and spent a great deal of my adolescence wandering around or just plain lurking in forests. I still havenít got used to the noise and hassle of Dublin city and if I ever do, itíll probably mean an important part of me has gone numb or Iíve just gone deaf from constantly rocking out.
In Murmansk I think we create atmospheres rather than solid landscapes. I find other musics easier to visualise actually. With Murmansk itís sometimes like when you half see an image in your head when thinking about it. Apart from all the crap stuff, which we disregard quickly, when I play and listen back to our music I get an emotional reaction but cannot say what the emotions are. Itís changes in body chemistry, brain waves, and a twinge in the solar plexus.
Some exceptions: ĎFata Morganaí (a type of mirage) on the first album when I could see a long caravan with tents and packs crossing a vast dessert or grassy plain by night. ĎGlass Valleysí donít exist in nature but it sounds like vast ice grinding or something plus Tortoise had already used ĎGlass Museumí which is the greatest title for an instrumental ever; should have got a Grammy. ĎBowhead Whale, Beachedí sounds like a lot flies buzzing around a large animal in its death throes, plus it came out in Norway, a country with an appalling record on whale hunting. Sorry Anders!
I just stuck on Craterscrape there, and yes, I would agree that the first few minutes sound like insects in a forest but I donít get that off the whole piece. That recording is older than the first album and I think we were giddier and more jittery in our newfound freedom.
Iím glad you say organic because although Iím always experimenting and looking for strange new sounds, I donít wish to abstract the music from life. For me, itís always about affecting the listener in the non-cerebral way I described earlier; cerebral is fine too though. Some who see me play in Murmansk might say, ďThatís bollocks, thereís no tune and heís just scraping bits of metal together,Ē but itís the digital sensitivity one gets from things, like learning to pre-bend a guitar string, and years of reacting to other musicians that makes it sound musical and expressive.
Having said all that, I think these days, Murmansk is sounding more grindingly dronesome and electronic than ever.
Scott: Big time inspired by that! Organic is the way forward. Even in the harshest of sounds and electronics that we use there's a sense of natural forces at work. Murmansk is in many ways our most primal and least "musical" endeavour. I had a sense in the beginning that I was composing the sounds but that level of calculation disappeared as I became more immersed. Now it's all listen and react, find the vector and work with/against it.
There used to be a huge ivy-like plant growing from the rafters of Gavís shed (where we sometimes played). It started to dry out and die so we played it as a giant brush-maracas, serious organics!
Dave: I spend as much time as I can at home in the forests and by the lakes and rivers. Thirteen months living in Australia had a massive influence on me, particularly in this sense. Deserts, rainforests, the Outback, the eucalyptus mountain forests, all of these things are part of the soundworld I draw on now. I need that in my life. I find city life very trying sometimes and the constant noise depresses me.
Gavin: To name but a very few:
AMM, for some of the techniques and approaches, and for being hardcore, uncompromising stubborn-old-bastards for almost 40 years. I disagree with a lot of their ideas though; Listening to the other musicians is bourgeois chatter; Yeah, like, whatever Keith.
I wonít even start on Eddie and his writings.
Tagu Sugimoto is a master of the Ma; his timing is so delicate and graceful. Even though heís playing notes, you canít pin him down to particular scale or genre. Atonal-dissonance = Heaven.
Rhodri Davies, whom we had the pleasure of recording with last year, shows how much you can do with just acoustic instruments. I tend to chop and change and add to my source materials a lot, so I tend to admire those who focus on limited resources. Iím just not that grown-up yet; still a kid in a toymongers.
The sounds and sensations of daily life and all the beloved bands that burned a hole Iíve heard over the yearsÖÖÖ
Scott: Speaking personally: Iíve robbed a load of sounds from Sciarrino, James Dillon, Ligeti, Xenakis, reverb-drenched guitar stuff like Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine, the math-rock gods Slint, of course SY and AMM, Nurse With Wound, all the presets in my plug in collection.
Dave: My main influence is Loren Connors. His sense of space. His melancholy. His notes hold thousands of memories and sunsets and places for me. Charalambides are a big influence too. Richard Youngs, Daniel Johnston, the Jewelled Antler Collective. At the moment Antony Milton, Fursaxa, Double Leopards. I could go on.Ö
Gavin: Tension is important in all music really; whether fully present or noticeable by its absence. I think with Murmansk the structure is defined by the tension. In the absence of cadences, melodies, and rhythm what holds a performance together? In a successful Murmansk performance I can hear a thread of tension; sometimes I can almost see it wavering in the air. It's like someone exploring a cave leaving a trail of twine in their wake. No matter how many twist and turns the piece goes through, there has to be a consistent thread. The tension can vary extremely but the thread can never break or go completely slack.
Scott: Same as almost all music, something to build to and release from. The level (of tension) is pretty high though a lot of the time.
Gavin: Scott got a laptop and SeŠn got a sample pedal. Johnny seems increasingly fond of sampling with his SK1. My setup has changed a lot but these days I mostly play table top bass and some contact mic'd percussion going into a four track sent to effects. I also plug the four-track into itself for feedback.
Lately, Scott and I have been getting symbiotic, manipulating each otherís output and creating a loop of feedback.
I don't know if we have melded ye olde organic approach although we do manipulate acoustic sounds. I don't really care if it bears no relation to previous efforts as long as it's good. Finding oneself in uncharted waters is one of my favourite things about Murmansk.
Scott: I think the electronics are still organic. I don't use much in the way of direct repetition/sequencing; more interested in sounds that change in a chaotic way. This doesn't mean relinquishing control of the end sound but the parameters are subject to flux, the level of which is controllable to a certain degree. For example, some of our electronics involve feedback-type systems which can be tricky to control - it's no fun just clamping down on it, better to ride it out when it goes nuts! Grabbing the volume knob is [a] last resort.
Gavin: I'll restrict my answers to Murmansk gigs here because I've had some disasters with other bands too.
The worst show doesn't make for an interesting story.
For me, our worst show was in the Blackfort Gallery (RIP) in Dublin last year. I felt we were all lame and played without conviction. I brought it to a 'climax' by pounding on a rubbish bin. That made me feel worse because I feel what preceded this noisy bit didn't warrant such intensity, and my playing was motivated by frustration and petulance.
At our second gig in Lazybird (legendary Dublin Club) we tore the place up but Daveís then flatmate (whom he had pleaded with not to go) stood in the doorway shouting at people telling them not to come in because we were shite! Apparently people, who were going to pay in, turned back.
Any venue where people talk is bad for Murmansk. When people talk, we don't have the freedom to play quietly. I like silence and a sense of ritual; The audience should be as engaged as we are. Passive listening doesn't come into it; we're in this together. I try to seek out venues which don't serve alcohol like galleries. It's amazing how quiet and tense people are when they're not drinking and in an unusual venue.
Last summer, Malady was out boozing with a friend of a friend and we ended up on a bill upstairs in a pub with singer/songwriters and an alt-country band. We were apprehensive and decided to start loud and stay loud and hit the ground running, horns blaring. At one point it morphed into a double melodica waltz a bit like the Amelie soundtrack. Not Vintage 'mansk but funny.
Scott: The one where I turned into a vaudeville comedy violinist in an attempt to play along with a film. It just didn't suit our style...had its moments though.
Dave: There have been a few dodgy shows. One of the first shows with the Australian band Holt was pretty grim. Instead of bottom of the bill, we were asked to headline after a bunch of overlong cover versions bleeding hearts had played. Our keyboard player just fecked off home with a hangover. The beginning of that show was the worst ever; we were pretty drunk but then decided we should just have fun. The crowd sang along and we had a fruit juggling session and singalong afterwards! Triumph over adversity!
Gavin: Environmentally, I think Dublin is an unpleasant place to live. It's crowded, noisy and dirty. I've got some good field recording from traffic noise but it's not an inspiring environment. Going to a good gig and meeting other musicians to collaborate with is inspiring. Dublin has the best variety of live music in Ireland, although it's still poor compared to other countries. We can also put on gigs in Dublin and a few people will show up. For me Murmansk is mostly about looking inwards rather than outwards.
When we actually play we react to our environment in a very immediate way. I'll play differently than I would in a home recording session if I'm performing in a space with a 3 second reverb for example. Improvising is about being 100% engaged in the moment so it follows that you become aware of your physical surroundings and play with the space you find yourself in.
Scott: I don't know, I think the performance environment definitely affects the colour of what we play. I really don't know.... Maybe, needs empirical testing.
Dave: As I mentioned before, drawing on nature is an essential part of my music making, whether improvised or otherwise. ARP, for example, attempts to capture the memory of places in largely instrumental music. In Holt, this is done lyrically. In Murmansk, I have always thought of this group in expansive terms, and so it reminds me of, or suggests to me, places I have never been. Getting back to the question, living in the city does not come into my music. I am much more a man of forests and fields.
Gavin: Awaiting release:
Xenis Emputae Travelling Band (On Deserted Village)
A new Amygdala Album
United Bible Studies 'Huntly Town' 3" on Slo Loris
Still being recorded/assembled:
UBS CD-R for 23 Productions
UBS CD for Deadslackstring
Weapons of Mass Destruction 3" on Slo Loris
A new Murmansk album for a lucky label!
Scott: Some great Agitated Radio Pilot stuff should be coming soon (I can say that 'cause I only play on bits of it).
Hopefully doing a solo album of droney electronica as Silica.
Not strictly Village, finishing new album in collaboration with Autumn Grieve. It's her album but Iím doing the
texture/backing to her songs - we used to play together in an art-rock band in Belfast back in the day before she relocated to the States/Canada.
Then off to Huddersfield in northern England to go back to college after a 3 year hiatus, more music and hopefully some knowledge on computering noises.
Dave: We have just completed the Children Of The Stones first recording. Twenty minutes of piano ballads and melancholy electronica. I think it is a very haunted recording. No plans for release just yet. I would like to do a booklet with it. Kroton Mammi have also recorded a single 24 minute piece which delves into dark electronics, bordering on black metal at times! I love it! Agitated Radio Pilot has many more releases planned.
Gavin: Deserted Village has helped me become more confident. I still get nervous about playing live but not in a paralysing way. The terror of playing without a safety net or set list is now something I relish. It's when we're at our best.
Since nobody else bothers to organise gigs for Murmansk, I am forced to battle with my shyness when looking for places to play. I have made many friends and found myself in surprising situations through music. I have hung out and played with some great people in Ireland and from overseas through music. |
There are also a lot of people in other countries I only know through e-mail that I'd like to meet some day.
I have always been interested in exploring new sounds but until I went down this improv route I always thought that sounds had to be in the context and structure of a composed piece. I did a composition for my MA in Music Technology where I learned a lot about manipulating sound. I had always improvised but it had been in the typical 'jamming' context. Playing in Murmansk was the first time that I realised the context and structure can be created on the fly with out falling back on scales and chords and borrowed structures.
How I have grown musically in Deserted Village is almost too big a question. My ears, responsiveness, and confidence have sharpened, and I can concentrate for much longer. I am very lucky to have a pool of exceptionally talented people who are always looking to try new approaches to work with whenever I want. Five years ago I'd never have imagined I'd be in so many bands or the kind of bands I'm in. The kind of response we've been getting at gigs and from e-mails from all over the world has made me more confident. I'm more prepared to take risks live. I'm happy to say that I continue to be surprised by what happens when we play live and by what we come up with in the studio. It's an odyssey.
Scott: I've grown inward, like a spiral shell.
Seriously though...heard a ferocious amount of music that Iíd never have heard of and played with some great people whom on paper Iíd never have thought would've worked. Also means that my non-improvising playing skills have atrophied a little but that can be fixed.
Dave: Immeasurably! I had given up on the idea of ever meeting like-minded souls in Ireland until I met these guys and girls! It has been the most rewarding experience of my life to play with and know them. Musically...where to start! I think we all really love what we are doing and I know it shows. And we have no intention of slowing down. Itís also great to have found so many others around the world who share this vision, a big community of musicians and artists.
Gavin: I can never narrow stuff down like that. This is what's been floating my boat lately:
Kemmialiset Ystšvšt - Alkuhšrkš (fonal)
Christina Carter - Planets (Imvated)
Pekko Kšppi - Minun Pšivškunnissani (Imvated)
BlueSanct CD-R sampler (BlueSanct)
Gang wizard - Jekyll Loves Hyde (Ecstatic Peace)
Polmo Polpo - Like Hearts Swelling
OVO Live in America Cassette (Imvated) is rocking my world right now.
Scott: Wouldn't know where to start. Here's some randomly chosen:
Double Leopards - "Halve Maen"
Northstation - "Bears"
Joanna Newsom - "The Milk-Eyed Mender"
The Mars Volta
Discovered... Nurse With Wound
Philip Jeck - live set from Můr Festival (both sets actually)
Dave: Charalambides - Joy Shapes. The song that breaks my heart these days is Johnny Cash singing ďHurt.Ē
Gavin: Keep it real.
-- Brad Rose (23 June, 2005)