Ryoko Akama (modular synth), Werner Dafeldecker (guitar), Bruno Duplan (chimes), Sergio Merce (microtonal saxophone), Antoine Beuger (flute), Kai Fagaschinski (bass clarinet), Jessica Evelyn (spoken word), and Lavinia Blackwall (soprano) belong to the impressive collective of sound artists and musicians who collaborated with Paul Baran (electronics, chapel organ, samples, Buchla) and Gordon Kennedy (electronics, organ, Mellotron, samples, keys), aka The Cray Twins, for the birth of their second album In The Company Of Architects (mastered by Ronan Breslin and produced by Fang Bomb), a very good act of acousmatic music. Let’s get deeper into it through the words of their authors.
Chain DLK: Hi, guys! How are you?
Gordon Kennedy: Pretty good. Nice to have the album out, and even the Glasgow weather is generous at the moment.
Chain DLK: Where does your moniker come from? No relation with the Kray twins, the famous East London criminals, I guess?
Gordon Kennedy: No relation. At least, not genetically.
Paul Baran: The name derives from Seymour Cray, the supercomputer pioneer and mathematician. We were fascinated by his engineering approach and I guess we see ourselves as engineers of sonic systems in the sense that we take time over each sound and how it relates to the composition.
Gordon Kennedy: The Cray-1 is what computers ought to look like, in our opinion.
Chain DLK: Before focusing on your last output, can you tell us something about the way you started getting interested in and approached sound art?
Paul Baran: My own background was in poetry, but sound art was already in the cards. My mother would play me wonderful music like Throbbing Gristle, Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Sylvian.
Then, I got turned on to Stockhausen after a visit to a local shop. That was pivotal, as I realized it was time to make my own work, without falling into that trap of copying other people’s styles.
Gordon Kennedy: I’m told I started pressuring my parents for a piano shortly before my second birthday, so I’ve had an interest in sound since long before I can even remember.
As far as working together goes, we were friends for years before the Cray Twins were born. I think we both have quite strong intuitive and intellectual aspects to how we work, so neither of us gets funneled into being the practical one, while the other one has to be the unhinged poet. We flip quite well between roles, which helps keep it fresh.
Chain DLK: Your debut as The Cray Twins came out on Fang Bomb as well, didn’t it? Any words about “The Pier”?
Gordon Kennedy: Yes, the Pier came out on Fang Bomb in 2016. It was based on field recordings of various coastal locations. Mostly in the UK, but also from Chile at the time of the Nazca Plate earthquake, the tsunami.
Paul Baran: The Pier was a metaphor for the entry into the Liminal through the subconscious. I believe that the pieces on the album mapped out interior mindscapes, which are precarious in the context of environmental decay and damage. This is a narrative that is best exemplified by pieces such as ‘Harbour’ and the ‘Duao’ trilogy of works.
Gordon Kennedy: We wanted to examine the furthest reaches of human extent. And the physical expression of that: remote dwellings and outposts; disasters at sea; us as humans, pushing ourselves further out into the wild face of nature.
Chain DLK: You grouped many renowned sound artists (such as Lucio Capece, BJ Nielsen, Andrea Belfi, and so on) for that release. How did you manage to involve them?
Paul Baran: Many of them are personal friends. People will work with you if they know that you are sincere with regards to the material. A lot of the performers have a background within the Wandelweiser movement, and that exploration of silence is something I’m increasingly drawn to in future projects.
Gordon Kennedy: In general, we just waited till we heard people were due in the UK, playing at festivals or whatever, and then bombarded them with requests. “Come to Glasgow. Come on, it’ll be really good.” BJ Nielsen was an exception: we got in touch with him after the album was recorded, to remix the Duao track. So he did his work remotely.
Chain DLK: Someone described your style as dark-ambient…do you agree with such a way of labeling your sound?
Paul Baran: Such a label doesn’t really describe or represent what we do. It seems casual to describe the work in this way, especially as it doesn’t take into account the complex processes involved and the harmonic shading of improvisers. For me, Ambient music is just a fractional element of the overall sounds.
Gordon Kennedy: It’s ambient in the sense that we use ambient sound, i.e. environmental recordings, extensively as raw material.
But ambient perhaps suggests an air of relaxation that the listener wouldn’t necessarily find in our work. Like the sea, it often resists attempts to settle into it. It repels the colonizing ear. Also, it’s probably more composed and directional, I mean structurally, than a lot of ambient music. A lot of attention to foregrounded small-scale noise.
It is sometimes dark; more by accident than design. Electronically processing field recordings of wind and waves often create a kind of sonic Uncanny Valley effect. We know these sounds in our blood. But something’s not quite right.
Chain DLK: In The Company of Architects doesn’t feature external collaborations besides performers, right? Or maybe ones by some architect? A reference to Freemasonry or their god(s)?
Paul Baran: The Architects signifies the craft of improvisation. How to build up a work from interactions from a molecular level to achieve the endgame of a new structure; the edification of which is helped along with the method of sculpting in the studio, without too much processing and intervention.
Gordon Kennedy: Well, the basic idea behind the album was to take the methodology we used on The Pier, and instead of applying it to landscape recordings, apply it to instrumental performances. In other words, to treat the instruments like found sound. Obviously that’s a direct inversion of traditional orchestral composition where the composer writes the score and then the musicians play it. Here the players were recorded first, and then the composition process started.
Chain DLK: Any words about the involved performers? How much time did you need to assemble the ensemble? Would you consider it an ensemble?
Paul Baran: Yes, that is an astute point. The performers were guided by listening to the material, before committing themselves to the recording. So I guess we created an ensemble through file sharing, and in extended time. Some composers have this annoying habit of over-egging the production pudding when it comes to file sharing. We aimed to avoid that and maintained the integrity of each contribution.
Gordon Kennedy: I guess it was a kind of distributed ensemble – a dislocated ensemble, even. Our methodology meant everything could be done at distance, inviting musicians in various countries to record themselves performing, in the location of their choice. Sometimes we would accentuate the locatedness of the performances – amplifying and processing the background noise, foregrounding unintentional sounds which had made their way onto the recording. But as far as performance went, we gave the players free rein to do as they saw fit.
Chain DLK: Can you tell us something about the composition strategy and approach? How did you “brief” your collaborators?
Paul Baran: We composed it like a chain. Bruno Duplant and Werner offered their contributions first, which were in the same key and gelled really well and through layering, we offered our own contributions to reinforce the structure of the composition. This included voices from a sample of a film I really like, the Colour of Pomegranates, and the voice of Armenian composer Komitas.
Gordon Kennedy: Not all of them were given access to what the others were doing. Some were given selective access – perhaps one other person’s recording to synchronize to. Others were given the entire piece to date, and yet others were given nothing.
We were deliberately releasing a lot of the control that’s normally associated with the process of composition. And we found, repeatedly, that the universe would reward this. It became an active collaborator in the process; things just seemed to fall in place. Musicians who hadn’t heard what each other were doing would be magically in tune. The timelines of the various contributions would come together at key moments, little sparks of miracle dust. That’s not to disguise the fact there was an extensive compositing and editing process, sometimes with individual musicians layered and re-layered with earlier or later parts of their own performance.
But happenstance was key. There were a number of occasions throughout the process where we just found ourselves looking at each other. “It’s happening again, isn’t it?”
Chain DLK: How would you “brief” the listener in order to make him appreciate your release more?
Gordon Kennedy: It’s hard to say. With ‘The Pier,’ we took a certain delight in subterfuge. Our basic method was to process and filter the landscape recordings to sound like ensemble instruments. We’d sometimes invert that, processing the instrumental performances to sound like landscapes. But sometimes it’s interesting for the listener to know a little about what’s actually going on, to see a bit of the wiring under the board. For example, on In the Company of Architects there’s considerable use of the Indesit WD12X washing machine – a fine instrument, much underused.
Paul Baran: Approach our work with an open mind and above all, listen to it actively, not passively.
Chain DLK: What are the main troubles in rendering a release like In The Company Of Architects on live stage?
Gordon Kennedy: Heh… That’s a question we’ve not had to answer yet. I guess if we were to do a stage version, we would start from the same basic premise as with the album, that the instruments are landscapes and our Materia Prima is the field recordings of those landscapes. So rather than use live instruments in performance, I’d imagine we’d double down on the concept and emphasise the recorded or found-sound aspect in some way.
If cost was no object, I’d quite like to put sections of the individual performances on analogue tape loops, and string them round the venue on capstans and rollers; turn the entire performance area into a tape echo machine, concert hall as Copicat. Mirror the process in the space.
Paul Baran: The logistics in getting the ensemble involved might be problematic, as they are scattered from Argentina to Berlin.
Chain DLK: How do you test your music by your ear? I mean… When do you say that a recording of yours is ok?
Gordon Kennedy: It’s a fairly intuitive process. For instance, if something in the studio starts to overload or feed back, we’ll often treat that as part of the work and foreground it. Or if something is buzzing, if there’s wind noise on a microphone, our instinct is to integrate it into the composition. That approach sets the stage for a more relaxed attitude to completion.
Of the two of us, I’m the one who tends most to perfectionism. And since I’m more hands-on with the production side, a track is usually finished when I’ve wrestled myself into submission. Chokehold, it’s done.
Paul Baran: We are both perfectionists and would only release something with mutual agreement. Gordon will add and I subtract to any given piece.
Chain DLK: Any work in progress?
Gordon Kennedy: Not as The Cray Twins, but we’ve done a lot of work on Paul’s next album. Which he can elucidate.
Paul Baran: Well, I’m working on a solo album which I will release on Fang Bomb next year. It will be more rhythmically charged than my previous work.