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15 Questions to Brendan Pollard

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hello Everyone, yes I'm fine. I'm currently writing this from home which is in the lovely Garden City of Letchworth in Hertfordshire, England

What’s on your schedule right now?

At the moment I have a fair amount of work on in the studio. Firstly, I am writing live concert material for a gig I have in Leeds at the Brudenell Social Club on May 6th as part of the "Awakenings" series of concerts. I will be joined by one guitarist and another synth player and I'll be taking 2 mellotrons and 3 modular systems and a host of analogue kit for this appearance.
If everything works on the night, which will be a miracle,  then I'll decide if the show is worthy of a cd release.
Secondly, we are recording another Rogue Element cd although its a slow process for us at the moment. We did have a completed cd ready but we both decided certain parts were not to our liking so it was shelved.
Thirdly, Rogue Element have been asked to produce a number of short experimental/ambient/electronic pieces for a TV Advertising Company in Denmark, this will be an interesting and fun project for us producing 20 to 30 second pieces.

Both your work as a part of Rogue Element, as well as your solo efforts are clearly influenced by the “Berlin School of Electronics”. What attracts you about this period, these artists and this music?

I can actually recall the time when I discovered Electronic Music back in 1973.I  was only really listening to Prog Bands such as Genesis, Gentle Giant and Camel etc. One of my Sister's Boyfriends came around one day and was listening to Zeit by Tangerine Dream and I was completely blown away - this was the kind of music that I had been looking for, from then on I was hooked buying every LP and new release that I could.So for me I kind of grew up with Tangerine Dream, then I discovered Klaus Schulze and a host of other EM artists over the years. For Jerome [Rogue Element member] it was a slightly different story, I think he discovered TD in the very early 80's and of course it became a big part of his life.I don't think I can ever really forget the feelings of the 1970's releases with the analogue instrumentation. The Mellotron became a fascination for both of us.

Around 1990 Jerome and I met for the first time and he was already producing his own music via cassette releases trying to capture the spirit of 1970's EM with a mixture of digital and analogue instrumentation. I helped promote and produce those early pieces. Then I decided to buy some old analogue kit and join in, my first synth was the Korg MS20. That was the start and from then on we decided to do things properly and try and buy as many original pieces from the 1970's as we could. Around 1998 we managed to find our first Mellotron as samples were just not good enough, then in 2002 we purchased our second machine which belonged to Air Sculpture although it needed a heap of work. We both had home studios and we would work at the weekends at either studio. Around 2000 I think, we rented a large studio in London and recorded our first album completely live to DAT called "Strom Passages". It was only a very limited release as we were never really happy with it.
Because of the enormous amounts of kit we had accumulated we decided we needed one big studio to store everything. So for the past few years we have rented a large room in Bedford which has become the "Radial Velocity Studio" and started our own Label "Acoustic Wave". Around October 2002 we started work on "Premonition".

Would you agree with me that despite obvious similarities, it was never your goal to simply copy your heroes? I mean, even “Premonition” is far more relaxed and floating than any Tangerine Dream album...
Of course there will always be similarities to TD within our music and certain pieces are clearly written as a tribute to them in some aspects. We were lucky enough to find a Mellotron Tape Frame of Sound Effects that belonged to TD in 1975 and these were put to use on "Premonition". I think Jerome's melodic direction and  influence came through more on the tracks to give the whole release a more relaxed feel. So after several aborted pieces we decided to release 4 tracks that became "Premonition". In all it took 14 months of hard work purely because of the technical problems we have with the old gear breaking down much of the time which is something you just get used to in the end.

On “Expansion”, you’re heading even further into new territory. The album seems to be purer and yet more diverse. Did you have a set plan of how you wanted it to sound and if so, what was it?

I think within Rogue Element, I'm probably the more experimental member. I can recall many mornings when I have played a ridiculous sound effects from one of the Modular Systems and Jerome would look at me in complete horror!! I felt I needed to release something which would satisfy me more. After quite a dry period of compositions it all suddenly came together and within a 3 month period I recorded "Expansion". I tried to achieve a set of pieces that would create different atmospheres within themselves, Heaven to Hell if you like, but you can still carry on listening to the musical journey without too much distraction. All the pieces are a lot darker than any Rogue Element composition. I had also just purchased a Fender Rhodes 54 and this opened up more corridors for me.
The first piece "Tegula", although you wouldn't know it,  is actually nearly all live from a jam session between myself and my Synth technican Adrain Dolente.We kind of hit off each other and experimented with the sequences through the Modulars and it worked out really well. I just went back in and added certain parts to fill the piece out.
My objective on this release was to get away from any digital equipment, so in fact some of the pieces are all completely analogue. For example the start of the second piece "Toxic Blue" has several sound effects all creating on the Beast Modular System. Those 2 minutes actually took me 3 days to create. I also wanted to concentrate more on the Mellotron as well, for example the Cello Frame has certain "smooth" notes and others that "trill" and "buzz" and I tried to show these off as much as possible.
I think each piece refected my emotions very much as well from the "Space Journey" of "Nebulous" to the gentleness of "Aquarius". And so "Expansion" was born !!!

With even Klaus Schulze now using Software-Synths, why are you so keen on using the original instruments from the 70s?

I am not a lover of anything digital to be honest, yes in certain places the sounds can work albeit a sound effect, but software synths are something that should be bannished from the planet as far as I'm concerned. My synth technicain has an awful lot of these programmes and we have good fun comparing the real thing to these emulations, some are just truly awful!!!
I can fully understand and appreciate how technology has given rise to these, after all who wants for example a Mellotron these days, they break down, they cost a fortune to run properly and its just not worth the hassle for the majority of musicians. If Software does it for you then fine but I'll never go down that route, give me the original machine !
I think its a great shame to see the Masters of 70's EM producing releases that are basically all digital. They have forgotten their roots.To see TD play live with large flatscreens and Moog Modular emulations is to be honest a bit of a joke as far as I'm concerned. Even more disturbing is to see Edgar rereleasing old classics like Phaedra and Epsilon with so called digital pad / sound enhancements etc. - just frighteningly Horrible!!!!!!!!

How would you describe or characterise your composing process?

I compose in several different ways. Sometimes I get those strange ideas just as I'm dropping off to sleep and I'll get up and write down them down before they disappear completely, then I try and put those ideas into action in the studio. Alternatively I'll just start playing on the sequencer to hope that someting comes right or I'll set up some strange effect on a synth and see what happens then just work at some chord progressions on the Mellotron.
The "dry" periods normally go on for a at least 3 or 4 months with me. I'll still be composing but then I realise that eventually I'm not very happy with it and just scrap the thing or thin it down to aspects that do please me then start all over. I don't like spending too much time on one piece as it just inevitably gets stale at some point. I know one musician who comes into the studio now and then who has been working on the same tracks for 6 years. Amazing and I certainly haven't the stamina to go on that long.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
For me sound and the composition are "one". For example I use Modulars for the sequence lines in my compositions. I have the choice of several Systems in the studio, Doepfer, Analogue Systems, Digisound, Bohm and the Beast but to be honest I always return to the Beast and the Bohm. I'm not a great fan of modern day Modular Systems even though the module choice is fantastic. When you compare, say, a Doepfer to a Modular like "The Beast" from the 70's, the sound difference is incredible, there is always more depth, and warmth from equipment of yesteryear.
On "Expansion", I experimented a great deal with effects using Roland Space Echo, Dynacord Echo and yes modern day effect units to get what I wanted. Of course its always difficult as these old machines always produce lots of noise but thats when your mixing engineer earns his money.

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

Well Rogue Element have only performed live one time at the Alfa Centauri Festival in 2004. It really is a nightmare for us to move the studio onto the stage as thats what we basically did. Unfortunately some of the equipment didn't enjoy being moved and one of the Mellotrons broke down minutes before our performance. We also discovered we needed a lot more time to set up than we had planned which resulted in some rather interesting slightly out of tune sounds. Anyway we managed to get through the performance to the end.
It was always our intention to take as much gear as possible to reproduce the sound and feel of Rogue Element in the live enviroment. Whether it constitutes a good live performance then I cant say but it certainly becomes more of spectacle rather than watching some computer and digital synths reproducing everything.
I will be playing a Live performance in England on May 6th in Leeds. Again I will be taking two Mellotrons, 3 Modulars and host of analogue kit. I have purposely composed the pieces to make life a little easier on myself this time and in fact I will be joined by a guitarist. We have an interesting piece being composed at this moment which involves pedal steel guitar.

What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
In the general music scene I think its quite exciting to see lots of Bands coming through who are back to basics, drums, lead guitar, bass and a singer, nothing too fancy but producing good quality rock etc. Within the Record Industry I know that this is certainly favourable as well. It actually reminds me of the early days when Record Companies were willing to take those risks rather stick to the proven "pop" crap that has been hitting us for so many years now.
Within the Electronic Music scene I think its a different story. Its certainly a small market but what gets me upset is that technology has allowed the so called bedroom musician the tools to release a piece of crap that will only sell 50 to 100 copies. You can make a whole album with one keyboard which basically makes a mockery of what we try to do. Because it is so easy to do nowadays then I think the quality of some of the releases in the EM field have become extremely poor, don't get me wrong there are some cracking Bands out there as well.

Some feel there is no need to record albums any more, that there is no such thing as genuinely “new” music. What do you tell them? Is “new” an important aspect of what you want your pieces to be?
The only good aspect that I do see from modern day technology within the EM scene is the experimentation within the soundscape / ambient field. This I would class as "New" music and certainly goes beyond the boundaries of anything I could produce and Good Luck to them. I'm not particularly bothered if anyone thinks our music is "New" or not, or if we even want to achieve anything new. As far as I'm concerned Rogue Element and my Solo material is purely a celebration and tribute to the old. When we get bored of doing it or the listeners do then we will just call it a day or just do it for ourselves.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
I think within the realms of Electronic Music Festivals then the present Directors need to spread their wings a little out of the direct scene. My choice would be to headline someone such as Moby which would of course draw the crowds. Then you could present to the new audience the scene as we know with a cross section of Bands from the Retro field, with the likes of Free System Project, Redshift, Rogue Element then onto artists such as Jonn Serrie, Steve Roach. I think this is the only way to make the scene a bigger  and more acceptable one rather then just carrying on with the 300 plus audience members that seem to attend the regular Festivals.

A lot of people feel that some of the radical experiments of modern compositions can no longer be qualified as “music”. Would you draw a border – and if so, where?
Good question. I have to draw the border on material that is written and performed purposely out of tune. I remember suffering a dreadful concert performance of Terry Riley back in the 80's where he performed a piece called "Juxtaposition  something something" and was basically him playing an out of tune piano for a couple of hours that to me is pointless and makes no statement. The Musicians who perform and write material via software and come up with pure noise soundscapes is OK in its own way and sometimes quite enjoyable as I actually do get some pleasure from the kind of experimentation. Coil are great exponents of this kind of music, they are completely mad but watching them live is a great experience.

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
For me as a solo Artist I think many aspects of "Expansion" were possibly my best work to date so maybe this was my Magnum Opus. To achieve even more or better is always a musicians goal. I'll just keep pounding away in the studio till I get something I'm happy with. If nothing comes to fruition then I won't be disappointed leaving "Expansion" as my final legacy.

With Rogue Element:
Premonition (2004)

Expansion (2005)

Brendan Pollard / Rogue Element

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