CHRIS WATSON INTERVIEW
for Japanese ROCK MAGAZINE
Saturday 26 September, 1981, at Rough Trade HQ
Interviewers: Akiko Hada, Satsuki Oba, Tetsuya Nonaka
Transcribed: Akiko Hada, July 2017
Photo by Akiko Hada
Were the cover photos for Red Mecca taken from the video that you showed yesterday [at North London Polytechnic]?
No, no, it was taken from a video Richard made, that he’s been working on himself. It’s a close-up video with his face that was then distorted and the colours distorted. In fact, you can see on the back side his eye which is about this big. It’s Richard’s face actually. He’s been working on videos for about a year on his own, and that was just part of it. He’s not planning to release any of them at the moment, just been experimenting, because we bought some video gear about 18 months ago and we’re still slowly learning how to use it.
The film you showed yesterday, was it originally made on video?
No, they were all taken from 8mm, it was a cut-up, again, that Richard had made, because that’s the side he concentrates in. It was some footage we shot on our own in Italy, we went on holiday there, and also lots of films we got locally, and some film Richard bought and then bleached out some of the images, then he cut it all up and made one long film, 20 minutes long. I didn’t see all of it, I think there was a film by a guy called Peter Care, there was some of his stuff in there as well, he’s the director of Johnny YesNo, which we recorded the soundtrack for. There’s a bit of his stuff, there are 2 or 3 people involved. And the one we showed before we went on was made by a guy called Nick Allday. We did a soundtrack for him, did it for his Sheffield Art College film, he did it for his degree show. That was called Recoil, about 8-9 minutes long, black and white film that was re-filmed from a video originally, black and white video.
[More on Recoil here: http://toxicdrums.blogspot.com/2017/07/recoil.html ]
Are you involved in the visual side, like videos, yourself?
It’s mainly Richard. We’ve got various areas which we concentrate on personally, because for all of us to be involved in each area would take too much time, it’s not really an efficient way of working. So Richard tends to look after the visual side, video and film, and I tend to look after the recording side, the studio and the tapes.
What is the idea behind using films to show onstage? What was the original idea?
The original idea? I think, when we thought about how we were going to put on a performance, we realised that we weren’t really interested in ourselves being a sort of visual attraction, we were not concerned about jumping about onstage. And we’ve always liked the idea of the performance being a sort of media event if you like, visuals and sound together in order really to create an atmosphere, so the two combined can make things much stronger. And we were interested in the way we could co-ordinate visuals and sound in performance.
When you say atmosphere, do you hope that those two things, the visuals and the sound, actually have some kind of effect on people, like Throbbing Gristle do?
I think, yes, but not in a subliminal way or a strong physical way. We don’t go out with intention of affecting people physically, but perhaps more mental stimulation or the idea of being actually surrounded by sound and visuals, just being in an atmosphere that’s not an usual atmosphere. It’s not a case of wanting to affect people physically and make them react physically. We did that originally, that was an interesting idea. When we first started we used to use lots of strobes and things, trying to create a sense of disorientation, which in fact is a physical effect. But we gradually moved on from that, we got interested in another area, using the visuals in a more subtle way and getting the visuals to compliment the music well. So I think the action has gone really from a physical direction to perhaps more mental stimulation. And really just providing something interesting to watch, because it can’t be much fun watching three people stand actionless on stage, that’d be boring. So something to watch while you’re listening.
Films, slides and all these visual elements, I think everyone’s starting to use them. Is there any reason why you don’t change the direction again?
I think we’d like to. It was quite embarrassing last night, where 23 Skidoo were using visuals similar to ours. It was unfortunate we didn’t know they were going to do that, otherwise we would have tailored what we did in a different way, actually. We’ve always wanted to use the video live, but it’s not a viable thing to do at the moment, because video screens are very expensive, large ones, and they’re not really satisfactory. I think someone told me Panasonic are bringing out a video projector, which would be really interesting.
Cabaret Voltaire at North London Polytechnic, 25 September 1981. Photo by Akiko Hada.
The one Kraftwerk used?
No, they had screens, large video screens. But apparently, later this year or early next year, Panasonic are bringing out a video projector in America.
There was something about that on “Tomorrow’s World“. They’re enormous, it’s like one of those, you know, drive-in movie screens, about that size.
I didn’t know, I missed that. I was talking to somebody, a friend of mine who works in laser engineering, and he said it was theoretically possible to use a laser beam to project a video image, getting a laser beam to scan the surface in the same way a TV camera does. He said there’s possibility in the future of using laser technology to project video image, which would get over the barrier of having to have a conventional TV screen to show them on, which is at the moment the failing of video.
It’s a bit restricting, really. They’re all far too small.
Yeah, to show to a lot of people. So until that comes along, we’re stuck with films at the moment, and slides. Again, with this particular gig we were fairly rushed, we had a lot of rehearsing and preparation of music to do, the visuals to some extent had to take a back seat until we were actually ready. We only had a couple of weeks to organise the films and things, so they weren’t really completely satisfactory but just the case of wanting to get something together that was worthwhile. The only alternative would have been to have lighting rigging, which again would have meant a lot of rehearsals with lights, which we didn’t have the time to do. I think, as you said, a lot of people are interested in getting into the way of using films in a certain way that we use, because it is quite interesting, the abstract use of them, the way the films aren’t exactly synchronised to the music, the way it’s apparently at random, sort of cut-ups and things. But I mean that sort of thing, a lot of people do that sort of thing, just a lot of experimenting. It’s been going on for a long time, from the Velvets using it in the 60’s, they were one of the first people. And twenty years later people still use them.
Another thing… you’ve been using the voice collage things for a long time. Why?
Mainly because I’m fascinated by the voice and a spoken word, and the way in which it can be used in producing music, the fact apparently unrelated elements or sounds that aren’t normally regarded as music can be brought into the context of music, in the same way really that we’d use films. Apparently unconnected sources coming together to actually create a totally different circumstance and environment. In a really classical surrealist way, you know, like painting usually unrelated objects to do the same thing. I listen to the radio a lot, short waves and local broadcast, and I record most of the stuff I listen to and then in the studio play it back. It’s amazing how often things come up that seem to fit exactly to a piece.
Do you believe in the power that words have?
Yes, definitely. And hidden power of words as well that can be released, if you like, through sound cut-up medium. Or auto-suggestions of words, and taking that out of context in order to give them meaning. I think it’s a very powerful way or presenting some material. I’m not altogether sure where it’s going to lead to, because I’m still experimenting with it, I’m still finding out new things about it. It’s amazing, the more you go into it, the more connections you find out and more similarities crop up. You can see things apparently unrelated actually come together. It was the same with how we came about the title of Red Mecca. We wanted to use the word “Mecca” in the title, and we wanted a strong word complimenting it, and came up with a colour – which happened to be Red. I mean, red is a strong colour anyway, but when they came together to make Red Mecca they took on a totally different significance.
Did you just use red at random?
Yes. Oh, we thought about it, we thought what strong word would compliment Mecca…
I thought it was interesting because it’s what’s happening in the Islamic world and it’s very violent, upheavals and things. I wondered if you chose because of the Iranian…
No, not specifically because of that. I mean, some people said to us “is it referring to the Labour Central of Sheffield?”, the Red Mecca of the North which it’s been called. It was amazing because we’d never thought about it either. Then somebody said, “or is it a reference to the chain of dance halls?”, you know, the Mecca dance halls. I was talking to Mal, it’s amazing how things link up after the event, and you think “of course!” It seems perfectly natural, but with no specific intention at all. I think in that respect it’s proved the title has worked, because it’s got so many people thinking about it. And everybody has got their own definition or meaning of it, which is great. Different things to different people.
A couple of weeks ago we did an interview with a girl from Israel, and she said “do you realise the effect of the title of Red Mecca as an LP, which has been released in Israel?” Never thought about that. It’s amazing. But I think there is some slight connection in it. We’ve been interested in the way a lot of Eastern music works. I’ve not listened to a lot but on the radio, I listen to Radio Beirut and things like that, and I’m fascinated by a lot of the material they play. We’ve always been interested in something like mantras, the cross-fertilisation of the different cultures and their effect they have on music. But that’s not to say we’re trying to make a statement, sort of bring the two pole sides together. It’s just more or less an observation.
You have Eastern Mantra, from India, with Middle Eastern music on it, which is strange…
That music was, a friend of mine went to Jerusalem and brought back a whole load of cassettes that he bought in the market, totally unmarked cassettes. I just put them on, and some of it was really… it was obviously just recorded on cassette off an old record player, really bad quality, which has got, because of the poor quality of the cassette and the recording, a pulsating effect, which wasn’t actually in the music originally, which gave it almost a disco rhythm. It was fascinating, and we superimposed something on top of that. We weren’t trying to recreate sort of Indian music with that at all, because we’re not capable of doing that. It’s not really a reasonable thing to do. It was just a collage, again massive input which was sorted out and we mixed it down, filtered about, trying to get a block of sound which meant something to us. In fact, the fact that we call one side East and the other side West wasn’t really a geographical reference, it was just a reference to the fact we felt one side was opposite the other. We could have called it Northern and Southern Mantras, but it was too long (laughs.) In fact it’d probably have been more interesting, confuse more people.
Were the words on the Eastern Mantra actually taken from religious text, or did you just make them up?
They were, we experimented with various vocal loops, and we then treated them and played them backwards to create a rhythm. And all we were interested in was creating a final rhythm, the actual words that went in were of no significance at all. It was the end result, we wanted the rhythmic root… and the one we came up with was the Human League… [??] Because there’s always been a sort of tension between us and them. It was simply, when that is repeated backwards and the speed magnified, made a perfect rhythm that we wanted to use. We used all sorts of phrases, that one just came out of the blue. In fact, a radio station in Australia made a tape of it and then played it backwards to find out what the words were, and broadcast it over the air. They played the whole of the Eastern Mantra backwards (laughs.) There are some pretty weird radio stations in Australia.
That was, again, it was just something to achieve an end result, there was no specific connotations in the original lyrics. There are on the other side. At the time we recorded it, there was a lot of political tension, as there is now, between the East and the West, the lyrics were an observation on that.
I’ve read in your interview with Zig Zag that one of your reasons behind the Eastern Mantra was, I think it was because you were always interested in repeating something over and over again. Do you believe in a religious power of repetition, or did you find it interesting musically?
I think both, really. In a psychological sense, there is, I mean there’s a lot of evidence to prove that repetition and the use of mantra is a very powerful tool. At the time I’d been reading several books, for example, Dr John C. Lilly’s Center of the Cyclone, which is a book from the 60’s when they were developing LSD in America. It was initially evolved with Sandoz Laboratories, the people who originally made LSD, with effects of it – they did a lot of experiments and then tried to recreate the effects of LSD physically by things like sensory deprivation and using, again, a loop or mantra, to try and recreate the effects of acid, not using chemical stimulants. And it achieved quite a lot, achieving other states of mind. You listen to a tape loop for literally 8 hours a day, suspended in a tank of water heated to body temperature, listening to them, all your body wired up.
Just like in Altered States.
Yes, and also, again from the musical side as well, it was interesting, because we’ve always been interested in the use of repetition in music. It’s a very basic thing but it’s something that works, and again it’s very powerful. And the fact that we’re not accomplished musicians, it’s useful for us to use that.
How do you compose your rhythm or rhythm loops?
It’s all done in the studio on the multi-track machines. We have a library, because we constantly record, even a lot of stuff we don’t release, we compose. We’ve got things like Roland drum machines and a few drum kits as well. We make up basic rhythm tapes and try things out on multi-track, and we use it in the studio as the fourth member, we use that as a composition tool for actually building pieces up. There’s no specific way that we go in to the studio and say, “right, we’re going to sit there and do this”. Initially, the stimulus for a piece could come from, say, a recording one has made in the street or something from the radio. Basically, the initial start comes from some sounds. It may be a set of vocals or it may be a specific rhythm we’ve come up with in the studio. Then we build up from there, in a very simple way, on our multi-track, track by track. We haven’t got a set pattern for actually composing or recording. It’s something we do in a lot of ways, by trial and error, simply sitting there, trying things out, rejecting some and accepting the other and taking them together.
Again about words. I think every word is in a way a symbol, because it can mean one thing to one person and something else to another person. Is there that sort of thing with your song or album titles, or with lyrics, where it doesn’t necessarily mean what you obviously think it does?
Yes, the double meaning thing. The thing is, where that comes from is always with the lyrics. The titles of pieces of music are always the last thing we do. We have to listen to the piece and try and think what that suggests as the title. Sometimes we take it from the lyrics or take it from something that’s been suggested in the music. But the lyrics represent what is said about strongly, and the way we use them is in a symbolic way. Each word, again almost like an instrument, suggesting things to your imagination. And a specific word can mean so many different things to other people. If it does, then we’re happy because it means it’s successful, because we’re not actually trying to dictate any specific meaning to anybody. If by listening to the words or hearing them it stimulates people to thinking about them, thinking about the lyrics in the way they interpret them, then I think it’s been a success.
So it never worries you how different people interpret your music in totally different ways? Even when you think it’s completely and utterly wrong?
I think it’s fascinating, because once we’ve released our record and the person who buys our record, it’s their property, they’re free to interpret it how they like. That’s all you can do, it’s public property once a record is released, so there’s nothing you can do. You can explain in and through the medium of interviews how you feel about it, but if people do get the wrong ideas and…
It never annoys you or anything?
No, no, you can’t do because we don’t go out to actually dictate any specific meaning really, most of them are observations or just basically trying to stimulate people to think about things.
Do you feel the responsibility in doing that, ie. people might get the wrong ideas?
I used to, but I don’t anymore because I’ve given up, because we used to get so many letters from people with completely different ideas that I just think “oh, I can’t do anything about it anymore.” It’s gone beyond that, we get people writing in and saying “the specific lyrics, did you realise that this might mean this or that?” We got a letter the other day saying ” ‘A Thousand Ways’ on Red Mecca, is this a reference to the second album by Nico where she says there are a thousand ways to run the world?”, or something like that. I’ve never even heard of the record! But they obviously thought that was a direct reference to that, which you can’t really say is wrong, it’s not wrong, it’s just a different way of interpreting it. I’m really fascinated, and I intend to listen to that record.
Again, people from Sheffield come up and ask us things in relation to our lyrics that we never thought about. You know, in a totally different way to the way we thought about it. Once it’s out then it’s free to interpretation by anybody who listens to it. And that’s the only way I’ll have it really. I don’t think we’re interested in going out and saying to people “this is the way it’s supposed to be.”
Photo by Akiko Hada
Do you make music for your self satisfaction?
Yes, definitely. I like to think we make music that I like to hear, that sort of thing. That’s initially how we got interested in it. If other people find it interesting, it’s great, but that has been the main impetus for actually making records. We enjoy making music that we do. Again, there’s no other way, I couldn’t do it otherwise. There’s no other way of making it, because you have to put that emotion or try and put that emotion to the music.
Do you worry about how accessible, or inaccessible, you are? To the world in general?
No, not really. I think it’s a case of… we get interested in some area, some different area, which might seem commercial to people and to others might seem more totally uncommercial, but it’s never been like… again, because of our background, I mean we’ve all been influenced by accessible music, if you like, from the 60’s and early 70’s, the influences we’ve had means a lot of the music is going to refer back to ideas suggested to us earlier on. I listen to a lot of European classical music and European avant-garde, if you like, Stockhausen and things. Again, in our own weird way, we’ve been interested, not in a combination of the two but taking a lot of the things we’ve found interesting out of those two sides and bringing them together, to make a new kind of music. But it’s always got to be… we’ve got to like it, basically.
Would you call what you do electronic music?
I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t like to say.
If people called it that…
I think it’s an unfortunate label, to me it’s like saying “that’s guitar music”, you know, there are so many different kinds. It’s a definition but it’s not a very useful definition. I mean, a lot of people say that about us, that’s fair enough, but it doesn’t convey any meaning to me, “electronic music”. I mean, all music is electronic simply because of the way it’s recorded, in the end. We don’t use an awful lot of synthesizers, we’ve only got two. A lot of the instruments we use are conventional instruments, and we just mess them about in different ways. But no, I wouldn’t say it’s electronic music.
Going back to the question of being accessible, so you’re not so worried about going out and making new fans, spreading the music?
I think we’re more interested in our LPs spreading the virus, spreading the idea, stimulation of thoughts among people, fans if you like. In that way you seem to be able to maintain your self respect and your integrity, because you’re doing it in a way in that you’re not sacrificing any of your values, in the way you record your music, hopefully. So you feel a lot better about it when people actually do buy the record, because you feel you’re not actually sort of conning them. And they’re going out buying the record simply because they’re interested in the music and not the image or whatever, or falseness about it. But that’s difficult, I’m not really sure, it’s a difficult question.
I mean people can turn around and say you’re preaching to the converted all the time.
Yeah, I think that has been true in the past. And with this LP in particular, ourselves and Rough Trade have tried an awful lot to actually take it to a step further, because we were getting to that stage, we were selling the records to the same people literally. But things have developed slowly. One way is the licensing deals – I mean, now our records are manufactured in Japan, in Europe and in America, which again, you get a wider audience. And also the actual way in which we promote our records is very important. If you’re wanting to actually move out from your established audience, the converted, and start converting a few more people, spreading the virus a bit further.
And you do want that.
Oh yes. I think you’ve got to, otherwise there’s no point in going on. You’ve got to be looking further afield, which is difficult, very difficult, to know how far to go and what to do in order to do it. I don’t know the answers to that, but we should do it.
I thought it was interesting that you were in The Face (magazine) a few months ago. I thought that was really good, because the average person who buys The Face maybe hasn’t heard any Cabaret Voltaire records. You’re actually stepping out.
Yes, definitely. I think airplay as well is the key, certainly in this country. I’m not sure about other countries, but airplay on national radio is, if you’re going to get anywhere, that is one thing you’ve got to do. But again it’s a question of how you do it. Do you employ record pluggers and get your record higher in the charts? It’s a really strange area, the one that we’ve not really had to think about in the past because it’s not happened, but we’ve got to now.
Exploit the media.
Yeah. I mean, I’m interested in being involved in the music, but I don’t know, we’d best wait and see… the best way to actually use it.
This is a similar question to the one about self satisfaction. What sort of relationship is there between your music and your personal egos? Do you intend to reflect your individual personalities in your music, or…
I would say no, that’s one thing I’m not interested in at all. I’ve always found it hard to come to terms with being in a group in that sense, in that people come and interview you. It’s very difficult, I’m not really interested in putting my ego personality across into the music. It’s simply a case of creating music that I enjoy listening to, that I might be involved in. I think subconsciously there must be elements of your personality in the music, in the way the thoughts you have, in the way you do it. But certainly not a conscious thing, and I don’t like the idea of it at all. As I said, I find it hard to come to terms with that side of things, having your photos in magazines and things like that. It’s not something I’m personally too interested in, because it seems… perhaps a very false thing, those aspects.
People hear music and they get a certain image, and then they assume people in the group must be all like that, but that’s not always true. Does that kind of thing worry you?
It did do, because we tended to, by the British press, get labels of “grey industrial group from Sheffield”, “walked about in raincoats” and all sorts of really gloomy stuff, “sat in caves of Yorkshire”. It’s something you really have to accept, because if you don’t create a label or image for yourself the press are going to do it, because they’ve got to be able to categorise you. And there’s nothing you could do about that really. That did get annoying at times, at one stage it got really ridiculous. Just something we had to accept.
Where does your musical taste come from?
My personal preference in music, I think, goes back to the music I grew up with when it first hit me, which is… the first group I can remember was the Beatles, watching the Beatles on television and hearing the records on the radio. I was never really all that interested in them, I was much more interested in the music that was coming over from America at the time. As I said, very early Tamla Motown, Stax, and the records on the London label, because I could identify much more readily with that than I could with a lot of English music. I was never interested in the English, very heavy rock groups like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. I didn’t find it interesting at all. It was mostly from America, in fact it was virtually all from America. Then gradually, probably at about very early 1970’s, I got interested in very early works of Roxy Music and people like David Bowie, became identified more readily with their music. By that time I was beginning to see where they got their influences from which was from America and Europe.
How do you want your audience to receive your music? Do you want your music to get to their souls, or do you want to be taken more cerebrally?
I think both, really. I like to see people dancing, that’s great, because I like to dance, and also like them to think about it as well. That would be great, perfect really. Again, initially it was the dance music that got me interested in music, basic rhythm.
I heard you want to be involved in every aspect of music. Is that something to do with the soundtrack you’ve been making for a film?
Yes, I think that’s an interesting area, and one that’s been fairly neglected. We’ve had a couple of opportunities to record film soundtracks: one for a film made in Amsterdam by a girl called Babette Mondini, [Chance Versus Causality] and more recently, the soundtrack for a film called Johnny YesNo, which was made in the Sheffield area. A lot of our music I see as soundtrack music, even the stuff that hasn’t got a film to go with it. Yes, I think it’s an important way of working, and we’ve got the opportunity of doing some, probably next year. We’ll do some soundtrack material for some television, which again is something we’re interested in doing, because it’s nice for a change to actually tailor your music to some visual requirements and to a specific theme, particularly if, say, you’re working with a director whose work you’re interested in, then he comes and says “here are the images, what does this suggest to you?”. Which is the way in which Peter Care came and asked us to do the Johnny YesNo soundtrack. He brought us a massive board that just had a series of hieroglyphics and block diagrams on it. There was no music score. And he said, “can you work to this?” and he gave us several requirements like “we want a very heavily rhythmic piece for 6-7 minutes, and an atmospheric piece. Can you do this?” It’s quite refreshing to work to other people’s criteria. It’s not something I’d like to do all the time, just an interesting way of working.
What do you think of the current trend, music & fashion and things? It’s very hedonistic at the moment…
Yeah, I’m steadily losing interest in it actually. It’s becoming more and more boring to me. The music is becoming very, very restrictive, it has lost all the impetus that punk gathered, that has been totally destroyed and absorbed now. I don’t like the way that modern music is going at all. And that’s why we’re slowly committed to the idea of expanding our activities, moving towards other things. At the beginning of November, I’m going to work in a television studio in Newcastle. I’ve got an opportunity to work in the sound department, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and which is something to me, is a creative way of working. Because music, the recording side of things, is getting very, very restrictive, it’s lost its direction completely, I think. There’s nothing about it at the moment that I find interesting at all. It’s very bland. I mean, yes, some of it’s great, some of it’s great dance music, but just a few and that’s it. I like some of the stuff the Human League are doing, Heaven 17, because they’re friends of ours, obviously. I mean, I like a lot of what they’re doing, but I don’t like a lot of what they’re doing as well (laughs.)
Was music your first choice of art form?
I think initially it was, we were all wanting to get involved in some form of media, and music was a very spontaneous way of doing something. And it was something we could all do quite easily and communicate to a lot of people. We could have quite easily, initially, gone, because we were just three of us to start with, into films or literature, which is something we’d like to do more of in the future.
Have you done any acting at all?
No, I haven’t. Never.
I think that’d be more natural, following the music, primarily because it’s performance art… dance or anything.
Yeah, I see your point. But on the other hand, going back to the previous point, I’m not really interested in identifying with the personal aspect of it. I could never be an actor because that’d involve characterisations and involving an ego.
But I mean it’s not your own ego, is it? You’re talking about a role, so…
No, but I think ultimately, because it’s a very personal thing, it’s bound to come through. It’s not really something I’m interested in doing. I’ve always been much more interested in working with people to different ends rather than… I see acting as very isolated and almost, in a way, a personal, introverted way of working. I don’t think I could do that. I’m probably not a good actor. You know, that’s interesting but I’ve never thought about it.
I thought it was natural progression, really.
I always feel uncomfortable on stage though.
Once I saw you on stage and thought that was almost like a kind of ritual that you went through. That’s why I thought you might be…
It is, I suppose, in a lot of ways. Like football (laughs), a spectator event. I don’t like being stared at at all, it cracks me up.
Whereabouts do you live in Sheffield?
Just off Eccleshall Road, in Southgrove Road.
Ah, yes. I went to Sheffield University.
Crikey. Did you enjoy it?
Yeah, it was great. I was there between 76 and 79, the best age… seems anyway. I was talking to Carl Russian, and you know John Blyther? And they were saying it’s really boring now.
It’s got very, very… the music in Sheffield is almost incestuous in that…
It always was, wasn’t it?
Yeah, but it’s got even worse now, it’s terrible. Everybody’s in a group, you know, that sort of thing. You go to a concert and everybody in the audience is in a group (laughs). They’re all trying to see what equipment you’ve got, things like that, rather than actually listening to anything.
When you work on music, do you always have some sort of concept to start with?
Not to start with, no. We always find that the music will take on a particular direction and we’ll let it go with it and see what exactly it’s going to do. And sometimes if we feel it veering off at the tangent or drifting too far, then we take control again. But we never really set out with a specific concept or context in mind. We channel things in directions but not in a deliberate sense to any great degree. Some tracks have got certain feels to them and suggest things in a strong direction, but I wouldn’t say there’s any concept.
Let’s get away from music for a second…what’s your view on death?
On death? (Pause) I’m interested by reactions to it. I don’t think I’ve come to terms with it in regards my own death personally, but… obviously it’s a fascinating subject. I’ve not really got any conclusions or any strong opinions. I mean, I don’t believe in afterlife but I do believe in sort of continuation of events.
Yes, I do believe in reincarnation. I’m not sure how, but I’m certain, you know, it just happens… so many connections. It’s got to be something. Like everybody else, I don’t know what until it happens. And I also think in a lot of ways you can control your destiny to a large extent. Again I’m not even sure if I want to know how, I’m quite happy with the way in which things are going. I don’t know exactly the way things end up and which direction things will go in order to die, but it’s fascinating to think about it, it stimulates your imagination just thinking about it. As a practical aspect, I do believe in reincarnation.
Is there any other specific subject in occultism/mysticism that you’re interested in?
I’m interested in Quabbala. Although it’s something I’m always promising myself I’d read more about, because I’ve only come into it in a very sketchy way. It’s something that, when I’ve got more time, certainly I would like to look at more deeply.
Did you see that the Quabbala and Western religion are in fact very similar to the esoteric Buddhism and other Eastern belief systems, the basic principles and so on? The actual Sephiroth in the Tree of Life correspond to similar things they have in India.
Is it the same with Numerology as well? Because I seemed to come across a lot of connections with that. One of the main books I’ve read was Colin Wilson’s general reference book “The Occult”. There’s a chapter in there about Quabbala which I found fascinating. And “Psychic Self Defence” by Dion Fortune, some references in there which tied in also. And we were talking to… you know Genesis [P-Orridge]? We were talking to him as well, obviously, and found a lot out. And again I’ve seemed to come across a lot of associations, a lot of the conclusions Burroughs came to with his cut-ups, in my own way. I’ve come around to the same… not the exact conclusions but a similar way of thinking. But I’ve yet to tie any of these together, one day I ought to. I’ve not really found too much interest in Aleister Crowley’s work, I’ve always found that a bit too trivial.
Throbbing Gristle were heavily influenced by him though, weren’t they?
Yeah. It’s something I’ve never… I mean I’ve read quite a bit of the stuff but I’ve never found any association with it or interest in it really. But I know Throbbing Gristle seem to have. Genesis was a bit fan of his. There’s a programme – I don’t know if you heard it – that was repeated a few weeks ago on Radio 4, Dr Alain Presencer’s “The Singing Bowls of Tibet”. That was a fascinating programme, I recorded it. He’s got a load of these brass and silver alloy bowls that, when he rubbed the outer ring, they all gave off a specific tone, and they’re all used in day-to-day life. They weren’t used in any religious ways at all, they were used by some Shamanistic sects but they were used in day-to-day life. And a lot of that is used as a form of control, not by the priest but by what’s the equivalent of our councils and things. They had some that could initiate states, various states of control, and there are some for specific use, some you use when you exorcise demons, and there are others that represented certain things. You’ve got one bowl that, when you rubbed it, started to oscillate, it was supposed to be voices of people who had fallen off the Wheel of Life, struggling to get back on. And they’re really terrifying, they’re amazing.
Did they actually broadcast that?
Yes. He started to rub this bowl and it started to oscillate, and all he did, when it started to oscillate, was hold it, and it started to vibrate and take on all these other sounds. And it started to bang and groan and everything. Amazing. They’ve all got specific purposes. If you ever get a chance to see it, it’s an amazing programme. I think BBC might make a cassette of it. It’s in stereo as well. An amazing broadcast. And Colin Wilson was commenting, he was actually on the programme commenting on the effects of it, and he was more or less talking about the way in which sound, in its pure sense, is used and how it’s been neglected.
What’s your fetish/obsession?
Microphones. I love them. The suggested power of them, not in the masculine sense, but the actual… they just seem to suggest something to me and they seem to have such a profound effect on people. You stick a microphone in front of someone, and there’s always a reaction. Either people shun away from it, or there’s a feeling of control, the fact they’re going to be influenced by something out of their control.
It’s similar with cameras.
It is very. I probably said microphones because it’s something I’ve come into contact with. If I’d been a photographer, I’d say a camera. But I also like them as symbols, I find them interesting. I like the shapes of them as well, and the connection in both senses.
What was the most terrifying experience in your life?
Hmm… ah, that’s a good question. Most terrifying… I once nearly drowned when I was about 6 years old, and that was quite frightening. One of the first times I went to a swimming pool, and I just ran straight at the pool and jumped in, and I happened to jump in the deep end. I had no concept of being able to swim or anything, I just found myself drowning. It was terrifying. I kept sinking to the bottom and then pushing myself off the bottom, getting to the top and gulping in air and sinking again. I was fighting against the wall, trying to let it support me. Eventually somebody dragged me out. I think that was a pretty terrifying experience physically. And it’s something I still remember as well, it used to have a strong effect on me.
Have you had any dreams that you clearly remember?
No, I do dream quite a lot but I very rarely remember them. I always keep a little tape recorder at the side of my bed, because if I do happen to wake up in the middle of the night, and if I’ve had a dream, if I do remember it, I always dictate it into the tape recorder and listen to it in the morning. I go back to sleep straight away and listen to it in the morning. On one occasion it was quite funny, it was when we were recording The Voice of America. I dreamt I was walking down a street, and went past a music shop… I’ve told a lot of people this, actually, you might have heard it. I walked in this music shop, in the window was a massive pile of drum synthesizers, you know little things that are like frying pans on stands, and I thought, “oh, good grief, Mal wants to buy some of these, he wants to use some”. So I remember I walked into the shop, there was a big wide wooden door, bigger than the window, I remember pushing the door open and going inside. And when I got inside, it was totally different than when I looked through the window. There was a massive loud speaker and a huge guitar, an acoustic guitar that was absolutely vast. And somebody, a figure, who I couldn’t describe at all, went up and started plucking this huge acoustic guitar. I could remember it was acoustic because it was one of those really deep ones with big holes in[them. And out of this loud speaker, somebody started to say “listen to this, listen to this, this is your new record”, and I remember answering “what do you mean?”. He said “this is your new LP, it’s called The Voice of America.” So I said, “really?” I just went and started to listen, and I woke up. And those words stuck in my mind, and I described the dream the day after to Richard and Mal, and that’s what we called the LP. And then again, with that reference people said, “oh, you mean the radio station, the Voice of America in Europe?”, and I said, “what?” That was the only time I specifically used a dream, when I’d woken up the next morning I remembered it and used it, but I don’t dream on a sort of concurrent theme, not the ones I remember.
Do you try to interpret it?
Yeah, I’ve read Freud and Jung (laughs.) That didn’t really help much. I tried to put classical definitions to it, but I came up with the idea I’m a sort of pervert, sex maniac… they weren’t very helpful. No, I don’t really, I don’t sit and analyse it. Mainly because I don’t actually dictate what I dreamt, in the morning it takes on a totally different significance anyway. I think, again obviously, there must be a link somewhere. I’m sure there is some association, and there is an inherent power in dreams that, if you could actually tap, if you could actually let your consciousness go and move in that area, I’m sure it’d be a rewarding experience.
Have you read Erich Fromm’s Forgotten Language? That’s about interpretation of myths and legends from dreams. What he says in the book is that the classical definition of dreams that you sleep so you let your subconscious go, etc., he argues that the sleeping state is a different state of consciousness, and it’s actually a purer state of consciousness, you’re not influenced all the time as you are during daytime by external influences.
No. That’s fascinating. I must write that down.
What he’s getting at in the book is basically that our ancestors knew how to interpret the symbolic language of dreams, and we’ve forgotten it, so it’s a forgotten language.
That’s amazing, because that’s virtually exactly what Wilson says in the Singing Bowls. He said there’s an inherent power and a use of them that’s been forgotten, and they were used in, again not in a religious sense but almost in philosophical workings. I’ve also read quite a bit on divining as well, and the use of pendulums, which again is something I’m sure is an art and power that’s been lost, and it is very powerful. I’m in the process of constructing a pendulum actually, with Margaret, my girlfriend. It’s quite amazing. And again, it’s something quite simple, just use a bit of thread and an object, you can use a personal object, your ring or something, or you can manufacture one.
Do you think it’s possible to revive those powers?
I don’t know, because given the circumstances we’re in at the moment, and other influences, I think you’d have to isolate yourself to actually go into it.
But in the right environment you will be.
Yeah. I mean, initially, when these things were used in practical way, things weren’t the same, we didn’t have televisions or radio or media influences. And there are other ways of achieving things by technology now, which to us seems a simple way of doing it, but I don’t think… No, it’s probably a very, very expensive way of getting to the same solution and opinion as people thousands of years ago did.
Have you read Alexandra David-Néel’s book about her experience in Tibet?
No (starts to write it down too.) This is great, this is one of the things I like about talking to people. The problem is, you end up with a library at home you never manage to read.
It’s called “Magic and Mystery in Tibet“. She’s a French woman and she was the first European woman to penetrate Tibet, in male disguise, in the 1920’s, I think. It’s amazing. She lived to be 106 or something, she only died in 1960’s or sometime. And there was a quite well known story about when she was trekking around in Tibet, this Buddhist priest told her how to make a Tulpa by her willpower. She believed in the existence of this Tulpa for 6 months, and it actually materialised, this man, and she totally created this man. She got this personal characteristic that he’s fat and fairly contemptuous to people and all the rest of it, and she could see him riding alongside her in a party she was in. And the amazing thing was, other people saw him as well. Then he got out of control and he was being insulting to her and all that, he was getting a bit too much, so she decided to dissolve him, and she did as well.
Good grief! I’ve heard of other examples of that, but that’s amazing. Again, I think you could only do that in, say, Tibet. I couldn’t imagine doing it in London. Initially you need to take a hell of a lot of self control to stop other influences affecting you.
Thanks to Akiko Hada for allowing me to publish this interview.
Akiko’s great photos of the period can be found here: http://www.bunnies.de/akiko/Music/index.html