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15 Questions to Harry Towell/ Spheruleus

img  Tobias Fischer

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I'm good thanks! I'm currently in a small town in Lincolnshire UK called Bourne, where I have lived for pretty much my whole life so far.

What’s on your schedule right now?

I've just finished releasing the Hidden Landscapes compilation album, which features some top artists - it's out now on the 'full-albums' tab at the Audio Gourmet website. In terms of my own music production as Spheruleus, I am putting the finishing touches to an album I have coming out on Hibernate later this year. It's basically a soundtrack to sinking ship disasters and failed sea voyages. The spine of the album was recorded about a year and a half ago and over the last few months I've really enjoyed studying and putting together the concept. Otherwise, I've a short album out on a much-loved  netlabel, as well as the Paper Relics album in which I have collaborated with my brother Stuart, a guitarist.

How would you describe and rate the music scene of the country you are currently living in?

The modern ambient music scene in the UK does seem to be getting healthier all the time, with great labels like Hibernate and Under The Spire having emerged over the last year or so. Hibernate in particular have been putting on gigs in Hebden Bridge where the label is based and they've had some superb artists perform, both British and international. Geographic location is less of a relevance these days mind, what with the Internet. Obviously gigs and events are location based, but records are coming out in countries where the artist is hailing from the other side of the world, perhaps having never even been to the country that releases their music! The Internet in my view has really helped establish a world-wide ambient community, as opposed to several sub-communities based in their own countries. Having said this, I am not suddenly shunning any patriotic duty; I am proud to be from a country where there are a lot of very talented artists and musicians!

Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a movement?
This leads on nicely from my comments about the Internet - I feel that it has made the modern ambient scene a worldwide movement. The music is accessible, the people involved with it are generally very encouraging and it is fantastic to be part of this.

In terms of composition, what do you consider your main challenges?

Time would certainly be the biggest hindrance for me. And often the problem with this lack of time is that sometimes I am giving myself a sort of 'slot' in which to do something creative with my sound design. Which is the opposite to how I would operate if I had plenty of time to my disposal. I tend to work better when I have an idea and I can fully explore it and see where it goes. I've read that a lot of artists discard a lot of work and actually waste their time in some cases and this can happen to me too occasionally. Other times however, I can put something together that just seems to flow out of nowhere ...

How would you describe your method of composing?

The processes and methods can vary, but generally my work is born out of a base sample that I gradually build on with several layers of instrumentation. All of my music at the moment is derived from a real instrument source, which I then manipulate into a soundscape. There is never a real sense of rhythm or  structure to my music; it tends to be loose and the several layers of instrumentation tend to climb over one another in a disorderly fashion. Then often, my work is accompanied by field recordings I make either when I'm out and about or sounds I gather from objects around the house.

In which way, would you say, is your cultural background reflected in your work?
Lincolnshire is very much a farming county and although flat in many places, the area of it where I live does have its more undulating terrain. For some reason, I wanted to be a farmer when I was very young – this quickly fizzled out as I got older, but I've never lost that yearning to be outdoors, stuck in the middle of nowhere. I quite often take countryside walks to get a bit of fresh air and some ideas and often I'll take field recordings that eventually find their way into my tracks. I also find this time a great source of inspiration for my work; time to think and be away from all the day to day rush.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
As I mentioned earlier, I like to keep my compositions loose and free from a set tempo. So the several layers of instrumentation are more focussed on the sounds that I can make with the instrument, as opposed to the rhythm in which I have played it. Also, a lot of my work is based around field recordings both 'chance' and 'deliberate'. The chance recordings are certainly not composed, nor are they improvising as such. These sounds just happen, and they really help to add some strong narrative to the eventual track.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?

Pretty much all of my music is improvised, based on the actual sound that instruments and objects can make. Sometimes I'll play around with an instrument and make a few 'takes' whereas other times, I might chop up the fragments of recordings that work best once I am arranging the main track. I am experimenting a little more with composing at the moment, as I am working on the Paper Relics project with my brother Stuart, who's a guitarist. His background centers much more around musical composition than mine and it is interesting to hear how our two completely different approaches have gone together.

What does the term „new“ mean to you in connection with music?
I think it can be very difficult finding something completely new in terms of sound. I think the term 'new' for me with music is when something is presented in a different perspective. Music that makes you think differently, or think 'I'd never have thought about doing it that way, and I like it'. I think there is a strong fascination through much of the ambient community at the moment in presenting soundscapes in an old, sort of antiqued way. Whereas, when ambient started, it was all about spacey, futuristic sounds. That's the beauty of sound though; it can be recycled into something new or it can really capture the essence of something old.

Do you personally enjoy multimedia as an enrichment or do you feel that it is leading away from the essence of what you want to achieve?

I think a breathtaking or mysterious image along with a few paragraphs of narrative and thought provoking titles can make a heck of a difference to the way an album is received, for me. I guess it helps cement everything together and give some added depth and food for thought. In terms of video, I tend to leave it most of the time since I rarely get chance to sit down in the comfort of my own room. But again, this can certainly add that extra dimension to an album package.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?

At present, I don't personally perform on the stage since I haven't invested the time or money into working out how best to present my act as a live performance. The only way at the moment that you're likely to catch me playing a set is DJing with ambient music, since I've been doing so with various forms of music since an early age and feel very comfortable with it.
As for what constitutes a good stage performance in my opinion, I'd say it's all about atmosphere. Blending together the right tones and sounds to engage with the people in the room. This is a formula that for me, fits across the board, whatever the style of music.

How, would you say, could non-mainstream forms of music reach wider audiences without sacrificing their soul?

Again, having touched on the subject of the Internet, I think this is certainly something that has opened up many channels. Sites like Spotify and social networking have become a way of showing our friends the music we listen to. Music is as accessible as it's ever been now we have the Internet. Having said that, this has had a very negative effect on the good old fashioned record shop. There's not so many of those crazy characters in backstreet music shops forcing you to buy records you don't really want but when you get home you realise how wonderful it is. Face to face, there is not so much introducing others to music these days and I do think that given the experimental nature of the music, it is simply not marketable on mass without sacrificing its 'soul' as you say. Best keep things the way they are and those that delve a little deeper will really feel the rewards that only 'underground' music can offer.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
I've pretty much immersed myself in music of various genres since my early teens and so I'd be keen to put on a festival of all sorts of sounds. Obviously lots of ambient, but some good jazz, some trip-hop, downtempo stuff, post rock bands, maybe some deep/techy house later on too. All sorts!

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
I don't have a clear vision as such, since I am always adopting new techniques and styles the more I experiment with sound. I'd imagine that in years to come, I'll have been able to hone all of the skills I have learnt as well as any instruments I learn to play and present them as the sort of tracks I've been striving for. My dream is to have a room that is full of weird and wonderful instruments and equipment … But who knows what the pinnacle of my achievements will end up being once I decide enough's enough.

Image taken from the upcoming Spheruleus album on the Resting Bell netlabel.

Harry Towell Discography:
As Spheruleus:
A Vision Obscured (Earth Mantra)    2009    
Tales From The Labyrinth (Test Tube) 2009
The Disguised Familiar (Earth Mantra) 2009
Driftwood/ Seafoam (Audio Gourmet Netlabel) 2010    
Rust EP (Audio Gourmet Netlabel) 2010    
Frozen Quarters (Under The Spire, Audio Gourmet) 2010    
Decompose (Audio Gourmet) 2010

As Audio Gourmet:
Subconscious Substance (Webbed Hand Records)    2008    
Defying Science (Webbed Hand Records) 2008    
Earth's Exit Door (Webbed Hand Records) 2008    
Rusted Dreams (Webbed Hand Records) 2008    

As Eyes Flutter Beneath:

Inside the Dream Laboratory (Phantom Channel) 2009


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