Tuesday 7 May 2013

Invocation of Dream Angels: An Interview With Martin Bowes of Attrition

From the beginning ATTRITION has inhabited a space all their own. From the stark experimental soundscapes of the early cassette releases to albums spanning electronic post punk, hard electronic beats, lush orchestration to ambient pieces that are simultaneously beautiful and disturbing, there is a sonic identity to all aspects. With an Attrition release one may know the universe that awaits within, but one may be taken to any one of innumerable galaxies and landscapes. Through three decades Martin Bowes has led the project, accumulating a body of work that stands outside its time and above any scene. It was a distinct pleasure and privilege to put some questions to Martin and receive the benefit of his years in music and as an artist.

Intravenous Magazine: This release feels like a culmination of different threads of past work with the integration of beat driven tracks with ambient and classical layers into an organic whole. Does the completion of this album feel like the start of a new era for Attrition?

Martin Bowes: I think it well may be... I did spend a long time writing and recording "The Unraveller...". After so many albums I felt it needed to go a stage further and there was no rush. I've always been interested and inspired by different threads of music anyway. I never sat down and said to myself "this album is going to integrate them all..", but it just happened and I let that happen. I'm never totally in control it seems  :)

IVM: You had many collaborators on The Unraveller of Angels. What was the process of collaboration how did you gather contributions from people from all over the world?

MB: As ATTRITION for many years has been my own project, I've always found collaborating an inspiration. Opening up new ideas and new possibilities I'd perhaps never have known totally on my own. It's so easy sharing recording via the internet these days, so I've found it very easy to have people record with me, wherever they may be in the world. I love the fact that on many of the new songs the collaborators were not even aware of the other people they were playing with, and on one or two pieces their parts were even recorded for different songs! Once I get some audio I get my editing scalpel out and work on the songs very much like audio montages. For the Unraveller I had one or two regular guests, who often appear in the live line up, such as Tylean and Ian Arkley and asked Erica from Unwoman early on as she's already recorded with me on the "All Mine Enemys..." album. Then if I felt a song needed something extra I'd get other people involved. I was very pleased to have Anni Hogan in on piano, and then the guest vocals of Mona Mur are a treat.

IVM: You created the score for the horror film G.H.O.S.T., which you released as an album that stands on its own as an intense abstract experience. Did creating music for a film inform the writing of The Unraveller of Angels?

MB: It was our first ever full length film score. I worked on Invocation with my wife Kerri helping on piano and keyboard parts. I remember when we first started it and I looked at 85 minutes of empty soundscape and thought how the hell am i going to fill all this up! A mixture of fear and adrenalin sorted that out, and I think that was very fitting for the soundtrack. We are both really pleased with that piece of music. Its a different way to work and different is always a good thing to me. We are actually going to perform it live in its entirety at this years Tower Transmissions festival in Dresden this September.

I took some time off "The Unraveller of Angels" to record that film score and I know I went back to finish the album inspired and that break helped. I took that inspiration and added it to the final processes and mixes of the new album.

IVM: You're quite active on facebook and other social media sites. How do you balance time between recording, admin, touring and promotion?

MB: Now that's a good question! I don't know how it do it sometimes... I do a hell of a lot myself here... management, promotion, studio work, booking shows, doing interviews (!)... oh and sometimes I write music! At the moment with the new album launch and new tours starting I've just had to work 12 to 14 hours a day to fit it all in, and Kerri has been helping more and more. Its working out. The response has been amazing, and taking control is always a good thing, now more than ever and i love what i do. I couldn't imagine it any other way and i still get time to see my kids and go down the pub.

IVM: You ran a 'zine called Alternative Sounds in the late -70's, early -80's. Did writing and editing for Alternative sounds inform your vision, and prepare you for the business when you started making your own music?

MB: It really did... I was inspired by punk and post punk and there was a great scene here in Coventry in 1979 when i started Alternative Sounds. It ran for 18 issues over 2 years and did pretty well and I learned a lot about how things worked in music from that, and more importantly became friends with other fanzine editors and bands so when I realised that writing a fanzine was not enough for me and started ATTRITION. I already had a network of contacts, so we got out of the City fairly early on which was important to us. It made a difference and it created possibilities.

IVM: There are some who are swapping scans of issues of alternative Sounds and other Industrial and underground music magazines over the web. Have you ever thought of making the magazine available electronically or in print collections for historical interest?

MB: Yes I have. There are a couple of issues online but I would like to find the time to scan them all. I also have a box full of old ATTRITION tapes and flyers and press that I want to document. I am gradually doing it, but it may take some time. I shall let it out a bit at a time I think. In fact we have started making a documentary on my life in Attrition and the early industrial scene with Daniel Gouyette, our Parisian film maker friend. It will take a year to make, but the release of this may well be the right time to release a lot more audio and printed history.

IVM: Do you think the move of most 'zines to the web has altered their effectiveness as a means of promotion, and as an experience for the reader?

MB: Yes and no... It was always a far more important experience to buy a fanzine and take it home to read it cover to cover. But they were also hard to find in your local shops. These days we live in an era of soundbytes, for good or for bad, but it does make things more easily available and that is a good thing. So the promotion has changed and the experience... well I think that is changing too. There are things we want in our lives and if they are lost we will find another way to have that experience.

IVM: From the beginning there has been a strong visual side to Attrition, is this something you incorporate live as stage sets and/or multimedia?

MB: We did a lot with multimedia in the 80's but everyone was doing film shows and i found they were getting blander. As we have 2 vocalists, I work with backdrops and lighting and smoke, and incense of course... I prefer it. It can be more intimate than a wall of images. But saying that, just for a change, we are having a special visual show for our performance of the Invocation soundtrack at Tower Transmissions by Holger Karas, the photographer and cover artist for that album and "The Unraveller .... " too. I love his work and it complements my music so well. We have something in common...

IVM: Many artists, labels and studios are struggling these days, caught between a sagging economy, the growth of filesharing and the demise of record stores. How has your approach to the business end adapted over the years?

MB: A Tricky Business indeed. Its been difficult. A lot of musicians I know have been down about how things hit everyone over the last 10 years. For us, as for most bands, we sold a LOT more records 10 years ago,  but at least that got our name out there then when labels were willing to invest as they would see a return. Ever since my fanzine days I've always seen the value of and been involved in self promotion and with the help of the web these days its more and more possible to do it, with not too much financial backing, although the hours are still the same if you are going to do anything effectively. So its self reliance and doing it yourself. I promote even when I have a label to help. I book my own shows even if I have booking agents helping. And record labels don't have advances any more, so I long ago set up my own studio to record, well, 20 years ago. And with computer technology its so much easier these days. Its a lot of hard work and a lot of ups and downs, whatever level you are at. Just do it. it is all so worth it.

IVM: What did it take to make the Cage studio a success in with so many artists taking on recording at home with the wide array of digital tools that are available?

MB: Well you're right, everyone can have studio in a box at home, but its knowing how to use them. I taught students music tech for years at the college here before i opened up the Cage full time. Its one hell of a learning curve, and I'd come up through years of recording with hardware and it gradually turning into software. So yes its about that, and for me, I already had the equipment and the place and bands had asked me if I'd be into mixing them or mastering them for quite a while. I just hadn't the time for most of them when I was teaching, and with the internet and file transfers I can work with bands from all over the world now. I did do a little marketing at first, but nothing as much as I have for the band. I didn't really need to. I'm in a good position with the Cage, it's my day job now if you like to call it that, and I love it, and I can keep ATTRITION as my passion.

IVM: A common argument that comes up in discussions on file sharing and the rate of pay from streaming services like Spotify and Rdio that recorded music are just ways to sell merchandise and concert tickets. Do you find that this argument squares with your experience?

MB: I know streaming is negligible for pay, but its a way people are listening to music now, so it can't be ignored. And yes of course its publicity and that can lead to concert sales and other merch. I don't think I'd agree that recorded music itself is just a way to sell merch though. There are a lot of people still buying physical formats and paying for downloads. I've seen an amazing response to our new album through direct sales on our bandcamp page. I've done more than ever before. Maybe as the record stores have closed, the people that care come direct now. It certainly seems like that and it really helps as we cut out the middle men. As much as I loved the indie stores and they offered more than just record sales, but ultimately stores and in particular the distributors are just that...

IVM: Some producers will do separate masters for lossless formats like CD and master separately for streaming and other lossy formats to compensate for the limitaitons of the latter fomats. Is this something you were mindful of when praparing to release the back catalogue for digital Distribution?

MB: Actually all our back catalogue is available as full wave file quality through bandcamp and all the major digital platforms, so I think the days of mastering for poor quality mp3 are behind us. Actually what's come back is more mastering for vinyl format, something I am doing more and more in my studio. Some of those extreme noise releases are a killer!

IVM: Attrition has been released through a number of labels, including Third Mind, Antler Subway, Contempo, and Projekt Records among others. Did you stipulate that you retain rights and masters kept from the start?

MB: Well, in the early days, like most bands, we didn't always know what we were doing and masters were usually just one set of analogue reel to reel tapes back then. So for a while we lost our early masters.... until we got them back and re-issued on CD and one way or another I made sure I had the rights from then on. Some of our songs we signed publishing over to in the early days and we still can't win them back... But to be honest, we've done pretty well compared to the many horror stories I've heard from bands. I have rights to almost everything I've ever done and the masters are all here and copied many times over.

IVM: Steve Albini has stated on several occasions that he records to tape because analog can be preserved longer. Do you worry about archiving music for posterity?

MB: I did used to worry, but now my music is available in full quality in so many places online and physically that I really don't think there's much chance of it disappearing. Early CDR's were prone to corrupt and die but the new ones and hard rives are pretty good. In fact, we lost some tracks on old reels of ampex analogue tape at one point as they shed their coatings, so there's no such thing as perfect.

IVM: How do you think current conditions for independent musicians compare with when you began, both in a career aspect and as a way to spread new ideas and issues in the greater culture?

MB: At a glance it seems a very different world to the early 80's. Technology is all around us, an information overload is everywhere we turn, and that's so different. But I actually don't think things are really all that different when you look at things in perspective. Like always, we need to find our own way in this life, and as I said earlier it's all down to taking control of your career, your life and working on those skills and working as hard as you can at it. And don't care for the knock downs, be confident in yourself and don't worry about fitting into any trend or clique or fashion. Work with them, use them, help them too, but ultimately let them fit around you.

Check out The Unraveller of Angels, the latest album from attrition:


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