RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

Interview with Jimmy Behan

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I’m good thanks. At home in Carlow, Ireland.

What's on your schedule at the moment?
Right now, I’m getting the next album into shape, which will hopefully be released next year. I’m also trying to get the first Glissen (myself and Kate McKeon) album finished

And then there's an appearance at the Berlin Netaudio Festival just around the corner. I thought it interesting you should be performing at an event dedicated to Netaudio, as the largest share of your catalogue is firmly physical. What attracts you to the idea of sharing your music for free and via digital distribution channels?
Yes, it was nice to be asked and it will be my first time in Berlin, which I’m really looking forward to. I suppose they asked me on account of my In The Sudden Distance EP on the Zymogen netlabel last year. At the time, I hadn’t released anything for a while and I was looking to get some material out quickly and easily and a net release seemed like the best way to do that. Commercial considerations just weren’t a factor. It worked out very well too, it reached more people than the first album and helped introduce my work to a lot of people from lots of different countries. It was my first introduction to the whole netlabel scene really. I still believe in selling music on physical mediums if people want to buy it but I’m always open to new ways of doing things There is a lot of excellent music being released by netlabels, Zymogen being just one, by artists who release on CD too. I don’t gig that much and I don’t sell t-shirts so any money I can earn from selling CDs is always welcome. The cat is very much out of the bag though, with regards digital music online. You could say everything is a net release these days, willingly or not.

What are your plans for the Berlin performance?

I imagine it will be based on material from The Echo Garden and last year’s EP. These tracks would have been written using largely improvised takes so when I perform them live, the processing is improvised. I don’t usually improvise as much with regards to their arrangements unless things are either going really well or very badly. Occasionally, I’ll take a strand of sound from a track and just run with it, but I find if I don’t have some kind of plan with regards arrangement, it’s easy to just get lost in it and loose track of time. Though I am warming to the idea of purely improvised sets. There’s room for both I guess. Some people are still quite suspicious of seeing laptops onstage, thinking that they’re just hearing playback, but it’s exactly the computer’s rigid architecture that forces you into some kind of improvisation.

Has your course in Music and Media Technology at Trinity College made it easier to realise your ideas on stage?
Not with regards the technology I was using. I still use the same setup as before though I’m expanding it to two laptops which is just more versatile I did find myself at more ‚academic’ music performances though, which always felt like a better environment to perform in.You don’t have the noise and distractions of regular rock venues and pubs which was all I had experience of. People just sit quietly and listen, you know? My big problem with playing live isn’t so much my own performance, more the settings I end up in. I became more conscious of that, and now try to avoid playing in noisy venues, there’s just no point. There has been more of a mix up of experimental and academic performances in recent years which is great. Just because I use a laptop, I don’t expect to be shown any less courtesy from an audience than someone sitting down in front of a cello. At the same time you want people to be relaxed and not feeling confined. It’s a hard one to figure sometimes. I’m often envious of louder acts where this is less of an issue.

So what was performing at a huge festival such as the Big Chill like
That particular performance, which I was accompanied by John Lambert (Chequerboard) on acoustic guitar, was in a large marquee where most of the people were sitting or lying on the ground, so it was quite a relaxed environment to begin with. It would also have featured material from the first album, which had beats and less of an intimate sound so it worked well. I do prefer a more intimate setting for sure, though a couple of years ago I was playing in a karaoke booth for the Dublin Electronic Arts Festival in front of just two people which was very unsettling, so you can have too much intimacy I suppose!

Let's talk about your new album, „The Echo Garden“. The most obvious question to begin with is why there were a full five years between this one and its full-length predecessor „Days are what we live in“...
That was mostly due to the course you mentioned previously which was a 2 year Masters and was quite intensive. I finshed in 2006 and it took me another year to let all I’d learned sink in. I started In The Sudden Distance in 2007 and I was also working sporadically on the Remixes compilation since 2005, which was finished in 2008.

In 2005, you already spoke about a possible release date in the Summer of 2006. Was the material you were working on at the time completely discarded or were those really the first sketches to „The Echo Garden“?
Yes, I had some material that I was hoping to forge into an album at the time. Much of it was work I had done in college, but it was quite a mixed bag. My head was so full of muddled ideas when I left college that I really just wanted to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. So I was drawn to using simple, natural sounds with less emphasis on composition or structure. After all the academic music and techniques I had been introduced to, I found it very refreshing listening to field recordings, found sounds and very simple timbres, much quieter music, wherein the composer had less of a presence. I started The Echo Garden in late 2007 and it was finished by early 2009.

In talking about the album, I noticed you set up a lot of „negative“ rules, such as:„No guitars, no drums, no vocals, no synth pads“. Were there also some things you „positively“ wanted to achieve, such as a certain timbral palette or particular structures and forms?
Well, I had a particular atmosphere in mind, which I felt was best served using more organic, less instrumental sounds. I was looking for a kind of buoyancy, which I think all sounds have. They will float by themselves if you let them. If you force it too much they will sink. They can become weighed down by the composer’s intention, if you like. I didn’t want it to feel structured like say, a building might be structured. A tree, for example, appears to grow randomly in many directions, yet there is still an underlying structure which enables it to do that. Sonically, I like the contrast between simple, clean timbres and the rougher textures of field recordings and found sounds. You can still achieve so much with just those two things, like black and white photography in a way. Using other instrumental sounds just felt unnecessary.

Time appears to be moving at its own pace on the album: Even though the tracks are short, they feel much more stretched-out and free. Was it a compositional consideration of compressing time, of returning to that childhood state when the clock really measured „no time“ at all?
I was feeling quite open-ended at the time and my life in general was very up in the air. Time is something that always interests me. I think we have a very basic and narrow understanding of what time is and how we perceive it. It’s always in flux, an hour here might be experienced differently to an hour there and music is one of those places where time can behave quite erratically. I think our consciousness has a very ambiguous relationship with time. It’s only our physical selves that really need the construct of time to function in. The title „Clock For No Time“ came from thinking about what the function of a clock might be were there no people left to read it as well as what time means in a dream. There was certainly a feeling of returning to childhood, wether it came from a fear of where the world is heading or just a fear of growing old.

You've refered to the record as a „taking stock album“. Was it really just rediscovering this old space of familiarity which lead to the album's personal theme or was it more of a combination of different factors, symbolised by „that track by the river“?
A bit of both really. I had just moved back to my home town after fifteen years and I was exploring what this meant to me in terms of memory and familiarity. I do feel a very strong connection to where I’m from and I think I saw that as a means to explore these themes musically. In that respect it’s a country and roots record really! The setting is as much a dreamt of place than a real place. When I was young, I thought the path along the river eventually led to the end of the world. I suppose you could take it as a metaphor for the path your life takes.

How did you, in the studio, create that particular mood?

Once I felt the album’s atmosphere was making its presence felt, I had something to focus on and help guide me through the rest of it. I find it hard to create a particular mood usually. It’s just there or it isn’t. I’m not very disciplined like that, there are just days when it’s best to just leave it and go work on something else. Otherwise I just try to work through it until something gives. I think once you get into a track the mood will come by itself, rather than the other way round. I become oblivious to my surroundings when things are going well, so I don’t put much into the space where I work. Apart from the speakers and a small mixing desk, it looks just like a regular home office. I’ve always liked to face a window when I work too as it helps the mind wander.

With regards to the idea of „taking stock“, were you also putting all of your previous conceptions about composition under scrutiny?
Yes, I think that’s accurate. On the first album, I liked the idea of framing more leftfield sounds using simple ’pop’ arrangements, but more recently I’ve been less concerned with that element of composition and I’m happier letting the sounds find their own space and let the piece just spread itself out into a form the sounds feel more comfortable in. I tend to write quite quickly, in bursts, and not be too concerned with the arrangement until I’m finished. Then I’ll edit it a little to help give it more focus, though I like to let the sounds themselves dictate their own environment. You could compare each track to a different element of a garden, like a tree, a small bush, a flower bed etc. All different, yet they each contribute to the overall scene. Putting an album together is much like landscape gardening in that respect. I always like to try different approaches even within an album. I’m not so keen on albums which just have ten versions of the same idea. Restricting the palette can help things from getting too muddled if your trying out different approaches.

In terms of the intimate character of the work – did it feel strange putting it out there for everyone to see and listen to when it was finished?
No, not at all. I love getting work finished and out there. I’m always curious to see how people respond and what elements of it they pick up on. It’s interesting to hear people’s perspectives on it, as it often throws up things I mightn’t have noticed.It does have quite an intimate feel and it does relate to my own personal feelings, but I hope the intimacy is felt more in relation to people’s own lives rather than my own. I’m a fairly private person and don’t really feel the need to tell the world how I’m feeling. I don’t like my presence to be felt too much in my music, I’d rather leave that space to be filled by the listeners own reflections on their own lives. I like the idea of The Echo Garden being a place anyone can relate too rather than as part of my own life.

How is your cat coping with being treated as an object for an upcoming album project?
Ha, he’s taking to it like a natural! Of course, being a cat (called Loley), he’s not always very co-operative. I’d been recording some sounds using a contact mic stuck in a bird feeder, and while what you are hearing is the food being knocked against the surface of the mic, you could still tell there was an intelligence behind it, which interested me. So I’ve been collecting sounds like him scratching at the door, using his litter, playing with newspaper etc. as well as purely cat sounds, like purring and meows, the little grunts he makes when he’s playing and lots of close up sniffs! I thought it might be a nice way to document his life as oppposed to just having photos of him. I’m not sure how I’ll use these recordings yet, so I’m just letting the idea simmer for a while.

By Tobias Fischer

Analogarythms / Side Partin' (Road Relish) 2001
Ep (Kin) 2001
Days Are What We Live In (Elusive) 2004
In The Sudden Distance (Zymogen)     2008
Remixes (Self-released) 2008
The Echo Garden (Audiobulb) 2009

Jimmy Behan
Jimmy Behan at MySpace

Related articles

Troum: "Eald-Ge-Streon"
No sidethemes or fillers: Troum ...
Twinkle3: "Let's make a solar system"
Fountains of bits and bleeps: ...
15 Questions to Signals under Tests
According to some scientists, aesthetic ...
CD Feature/ Jimmy Behan: "The Echo Garden"
A tender trip: Behan reveals ...

Partner sites