Mostly known as the drummer and the percussionist of the appreciated band The Necks, Tony Buck recently dropped a solo-release ‘Unearth’ on Lawrence English’s label Room40. Better-informed music lovers know that Tony’s activity is much more widespread over the contemporary scene: he extensively played, toured and performed with well-respected projects/musicians such as The EX, Jon Rose, Tenko, John Zorn, Phil Minton and many others. Furthermore, he’s not only a drummer, he’s also an appreciated video maker, guitarist, and producer. In the meantime, let’s get deeper into the above-mentioned release.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi, Tony! How are you?
Tony Buck: A bit tired. Catching up and trying to recharge my energy after some pretty constant touring with The Necks and with SPILL with Magda Mayas.
Chain D.L.K.: Even if I think you don’t need an introduction, due to the fact that many listeners and definitely many readers of our zine (generally well informed) should know you by The Necks…some introductory words about your artistic path by yourself?
Tony Buck: Well, I’m more or less a drummer playing mostly, in the last few years, improvised music, although my roots are probably in rock and jazz music. I still play and am interested in many ways to play. I’ve spent time in the past playing with electronics and sampling, and these days I play and record with guitars and “found sounds” a great deal and make music machines and videos as well.
Chain D.L.K.: Some reviewers wrote that Unearth is your debut as a solo. As far as I know, you already had some releases by yourself…is this correct?
Tony Buck: Well, Unearth is the first real solo recording for some time; probably about 15 years. I’ve made a number of solo albums before that – all very different from each other. A self-released solo record in the 80’s with some friends helping out on different tracks, which was more an experimental rock record. It was called ‘The Shape of Things to Come’. Also in this vein, and around the same time, a 12″ industrial dance type record, The Piston Song.
I made a record at STEIM in Amsterdam that was a series of short improvisations using sample triggering and different interactive electronics called “Solo-Live”. I made a long solo acoustic Drumkit recording called “Self-contained-underwater-breathing-apparatus” (S_C_U_B_A ), which was basically a one-take improvisation in the studio. I contributed a solo track to the collection “Berlin Drums” on the Absinth Label around 2002. The first record by my band TRANSMIT, which was called “Project”, I feel was more or less a solo session where I played everything but electric bass, which was played by Australian bassist Dave Symes. So there have been quite a few more or less solo releases over the years. But it has been about 15 years since the last totally solo release, no guests, no help.
Chain D.L.K.: Before focusing on Unearth, could you explain your opinion on so-called experimentation in music? How do you reply to all those jazz followers who keep on saying that experimentation is an end in itself, which mostly lacks “emotionality”?
Tony Buck: It seems to me all music-making comes out of a process of trying things out; experimenting and amassing a vocabulary, and a certain amount of time trying to hone these skills and find a kind of articulate expression. Sometimes it is an interesting process to carry out this experimentation in public, in an improvising context. I don’t find this process to be inherently unemotional. It can, in fact, be a quite emotional undertaking and process.
Chain D.L.K.: Chris Abrahams already replied to this question, but I’d like to know your feedback… How do you explain the success and the acknowledgments that a remarkably wise audience attributed to The Necks?
Tony Buck: I don’t really know why The Necks seem to resonate with as wide of an audience as they seem to. We have a very clear and simple objective, and although it demands a lot from a listener, it is, at the same time, quite approachable in terms of sound and harmonic and rhythmic language. In a way, we don’t play by the experimental or improvisation rule book (although it’s very important that we do improvise the music) and are quite comfortable getting into quite approachable textures and sounds, which I guess are still pretty engaging without being alienating. It’s always very heartening to feel that people engage with the music like they do and seem to have a meaningful relationship with what we do.
Chain D.L.K.: How does your experience in The Necks influence your personal stylistic and artistic research?
Tony Buck: Well, The Necks are a product of the three of us and our artistic research, collectively and individually. Being in a group that plays with such a focus and specific aesthetic does influence the ways in which I engage with other, different or contrasting projects and approaches. I think, as individuals, we also bring a lot of varied influences from the other things we do back into The Necks. It’s a very dynamic feedback system within and without the group.
Chain D.L.K.: So, ‘Unearth’…why that ‘Un-‘?
Tony Buck: I like the idea of digging deep and uncovering different levels or strata within the music. There’s also the connotation of something unearthly- something strange and alien and also something expanding out from the earth. So the idea of both down and deep and up and out happening simultaneously.
Chain D.L.K.: It seems there’s no intent to narrate or describe something in ‘Unearth’, or am I wrong? If there’s any narration or description, could you help us?
Tony Buck: I think the main thing I wanted to achieve was a sense of a slow expansion; from quiet and seemingly insignificant sounds to bigger, massive walls of sound. As the piece developed, I found some sections suggested or followed a kind of narrative logic, although mostly quite abstract. I’ve noticed certain motifs that I wasn’t really aware of until it was finished – certain arpeggios that are always echoed with gong hits and splintered-sounding electronics that seem to punctuate the piece like little sound posts along the way – like a VERY slow pulse every 5 mins or so. There is a section towards the end where I definitely had a kind of specific narrative in mind, where I tried to get these Chinese drum rolls to increase the tension somewhat, leading to very harsh and dissonant horns, crying like multiple screams. I actually had in mind a kind of Hieronymus Bosch, visions of Hell type scenario! Quite early in the piece, I wanted to have a reference to something that happens later, but not like a prediction of something to come; more like a memory of something that is yet to happen, kind of like an attempt to suggest the whole piece is existing simultaneously, even though, of course, it unfolds over the music in 50 min or so. There is also, somewhere in the middle of the piece, a match strike, a sizzling cymbal leading to a quiet gong ‘explosion’ which I added in as a kind of hidden and somewhat tongue-in-cheek aside. Apart from this, my main aim was to deal with the idea of a piece that would operate at different levels simultaneously – Fast / slow … Moving inexorably forward but almost remaining static. That kind of thing.
Chain D.L.K.: ‘Unearth’ has something ritualistic in its sound… Closer to some stuff you did with Christian Fennesz and David Daniell than the stuff I heard from you in The Necks…isn’t it?
Tony Buck: I don’t know about that. I guess it has a darker and somewhat denser basis than some of The Necks’ things. Interesting you use the word ritualistic, as I am finding an element of that in the ‘live’ adaption of this music I am working on. A kind of functional process at work. I played a ‘work in progress’ version of this approach in NYC recently, and one critic describes it as feeling more like “an installation piece… More like an atmosphere than a performance,” which to me was a great response.
Chain D.L.K.: Is ‘Unearth’ entirely solo, or does it feature some hidden support/contribution?
Tony Buck: It’s totally solo. Every sound on it is made by me, or, in the case of the small amount of field recordings, recorded by me. I edited and constructed the piece last summer when I was in a residency at Villa Aurora in LA. Most of the material was recorded already by then and a basic form had been sketched out, but this residency afforded me the time and focus to really shape the piece. I was pretty meticulous in the mixing and timing of all the sounds in relation to one another, dealing in microscopic, millisecond shifts and tiny level adjustments, although I did want it to flow and develop like a piece that might have been improvised. In some senses, it has a similar flow or dynamic shape as the S_C_U_B_A solo drum record, almost as if it’s an orchestration of that piece.
Chain D.L.K.: Any weird fact related to it you’d like to share?
Tony Buck: Well, there is one bass note on the record that was actually played by my cat Spooky (so I guess that disqualifies my last answer!). I was recording it at my living room table in Berlin, and he came in and sat in front of me and leaned forward and played a note with his paw. It’s a very slow part and I actually can’t tell which note was his, but it’s definitely there on the record!
Chain D.L.K.: Did you bring Unearth on live stage (if it’s possible to have a live dimension of this release)?
Tony Buck: I am working on a solo set or piece that is directly influenced by Unearth, if not exactly the piece, per se. I’m using some machines with little motors that play a kind of randomized persuasion loops and overlaying guitar and percussion with that. I’ve played elements of this performance before, but it’s become much more focused and expansive lately, also engaging in this ritualistic and performance aspect I spoke of earlier.
Chain D.L.K.: ‘Unearth’ was released by Lawrence English’s imprint Room40. Besides nationality, what do you have in common with Lawrence in terms of sensitivity and art?
Tony Buck: I’ve known Lawrence a long time. He’s always been a big supporter of The Necks. (Chris and I actually played on his latest release.) I think we share an interest in long-form music that evolves slowly and offers the opportunity to explore timbral dimensions of the sound in a detailed way. I get the sense Lawrence is influenced by his environment visually, socially, politically…as well as sonically, and these things feed each other somewhat. He is a very multi-leveled individual. An inspiring presence in the scene for sure.
Chain D.L.K.: Any work in progress?
Tony Buck: I’m putting a lot of thought and focus on this new solo live setting at the moment. I have started to work on another solo recordings piece as well, although I must say it’s more at the conceptual stage and I’ve yet to commit any sound to ‘tape’ at this point….. But it’s slowly taking shape!
visit Tony Buck on the web at: tony-buck.com