RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

Interview with Talvihorros 2

img  Tobias Fischer

Perhaps the hifi industry ought to make Talvihorros their ambassador. If there were ever an artist, after all, who could make you throw away your MP3-player and invest in expensive stereo systems and speakers, it must be the project's mastermind Ben Chatwin. Always eager to expand beyond the all too familiar templates of drone- and ambient, Talvihorros albums use the familiar building blocks of the genre – sustained resonances, textured guitar lines, metallic scrapings – to convey a sense of space and expansiveness, a widescreen sensation one typically associates with movie soundtracks. Already on his breakthrough work Descend Into Delta, the scope, ambition and force of his sonic vision instantly relegated 99% of comparable releases to second league material. And yet, Follow-Up And it Was So, published on vinyl by leading German imprint Denovali, managed to dive even deeper into the infinite ocean of sound, adding mournful melodies and painfully sluggish doom drums to the equation and blending these sources into arrangements marked equally by a free drift and a clear sense of composition. The conventional separation between production and composition clearly makes no sense here, as sounds take on thematic character and timbres act as Leitmotifs. Of course, these pieces sound fantastic when listened to on headphones over nocturnal strolls through the city – especially so on current full-length Eaten Alive, which specifically deals with East London's dark corners. And yet, converting this music to MP3 almost seems disrespectful: Only when appreciated with undivided attention and on the best possible equipment will these sounds reveal all of their secrets. 

How do you see the relationship between technology and creativity?
I see it as kind of problematic. They aren‘t really all that connected in any way. Creativity is something you hold inside you – somewhere deep – it‘s fed by culture and shaped by the life you lead. I don‘t think it can be taught or learnt. It‘s a voice used to communicate something. Technology can record the voice, change the sound of the voice, but it can‘t really influence what the voice says.

However, there is always a new bit of equipment to lust after –with the promise that it is going to instantly make your music sound better and your workflow quicker. It‘s hard not to be affected by it, but I try to remember that it‘s never going to make the music for you.

What was your experience of studying music at university like?
I have very mixed feelings about studying music and education on a broader scale. There is, of course, a lot of technical things that can be learned and I think having time to study and explore is of huge benefit to creative individuals. But as I said, for me, creativity is something that can‘t be taught; it‘s something you have, perhaps something we all have.

I think the greatest way to learn is to absorb culture, life, people, to experience things ... Few people say it, but our greatest tools for making music are our ears and our unique responses to what we hear. It‘s passion that I find a wonderful thing and that‘s something that education generally doesn‘t support. I think if you are passionate about something you should follow it – see where it takes you. Don‘t let anyone tell you there is a right or wrong way to do things, just do it your way. The problem with a lot of academia is that you see a lot of people leaving these courses all influenced by a similar set of ideas and motivations - it‘s adding to a homogenisation of culture and experience.

Over the years, you've gone from a simple bedroom studio to a professional working environment. What was the process like? Are there, looking back, some advantages of working within a very minimal production environment?
Well, it‘s the same studio really – it‘s just grown and become more professional over the years as i‘ve attained more equipment. I guess time and money are the biggest factors here. It still seems far from what many people's idea of a professional studio is but, for me, it contains everything I could ever wish for to lose myself and make almost any type of music I can think of. So, in that respect, it‘s kind of like a dream to have a room in my house where I can do this. Looking back and comparing it to a minimal set-up, I'm not so sure there are that many advantages, I think it‘s more a naivety that I miss - it can be a precious tool. 

Tell me about the studio.
As I mentioned before my studio has been growing over a number of years, maybe ten or so now. It‘s not like I sat down with a budget one day and planned what equipment I’d need to build it. It was more a case of slowly collecting guitars and amps then a few synths and then some mics, compressors, effects .. Every time I‘ve moved house, I‘ve needed a bigger room to fit the equipment in. I have gone from a corner of my bedroom, where I made my first album, to various box/spare rooms to the relatively better proportioned room that I have now. I had a choice of rooms when my partner and I moved into our current house – I chose a room with two windows looking out onto trees and greenery, despite the complications this has on the acoustics. Having worked in rooms with no windows, I think it is pretty crucial to see the outside world, see the seasons change, hear the birds etc. I‘d say an inspirational space to work is as valuable, if not more, than the sonics of a space.

What are some of the most important tools in your collection?
For recording, I mostly use my computer that I built myself many years ago and that I constantly update and keep to a reasonably high-spec. It‘s running a couple of sequencers for editing and arranging and also has way too many plugins. I‘ve been meaning to strip back the amount of plugins that I have available to only the most essential tools, as I find I can waste time selecting from too many options.

I have a hardware mixer which is probably the centre piece of my studio. All my hardware is connected to it and it allows me to route anything anywhere and generally move audio around my studio in what I find to be a fun and inspiring way. Importantly, this also means I can play around with my hardware without turning on my computer. Sometimes, it's nice to just use my ears and not my eyes. I have many hardware instruments, the ones that get used the most are probably a Yamaha SK20 Organ/String/Poly Synth, Roland Juno 6 poly-synth, Hohner Pianet Electric Piano, Siel Orchestra String Machine, Fender Toronado and Jaguar electric guitars, Spanish acoustic guitar, 2 metallophones, an upright piano and a crazy amount of guitar effects pedals (many of which is made by Electro Harmonix and Moog).

I also have a set-up that I use mostly for live performances which is constantly evolving but built around a EHX 2880 looper, Arturia Minibrute mono-synth and a few pedals like the Moog MF Drive, EHX Superego and Alesis Ampliton Tremolo/Panner. This is usually set-up in the studio when I‘m not touring as it‘s become a functional little system that I enjoy playing with and I can send anything through it for processing and manipulation.

Your current album Eaten Alive sounds extremely refined, but it also has a very physical, almost band-like quality to it. How would you describe your recording philosophy and your sound aesthetic?
Your point about my music being band-like is an interesting one for me; it’s not something I've ever considered about my own music but it makes sense given my background of playing in bands. Perhaps it's because everything you hear on the album is played by hand – I try to create as much of it in the real world as possible. I don't use technology to quantise, loop or make my life easier in that respect, so most of the time it's real instruments being plucked, hit, strummed, bowed etc ... I'm less interested in computer programming and processing than in sound and how it moves through the air as a physical presence. I use the computer primarily for multitracking and sequencing and not much else.

Tracks are built up slowly over time in a mostly improvisational manner. I throw a lot of ideas in there and see what sticks – a lot of layering is involved as I generally favour a full frequency spectrum where the tracks are quite dense and weighty. It‘s then usually a lengthy process of refining and focusing the ideas that aren‘t completely awful. I find how an improvisation relates to production very interesting. I think the two are intrinsically related in that the more you sculpt or produce an idea or improvisation, the more it looses that initial impact, and perhaps magic, that exists in the initial recording. Yet, with production, you can to a certain extent make your idea seem more direct and focused, which brings with it an accessibility. Production can be a handy tool but im wary of it – it can take the life out of music and ruin it just as much as it can enhance it. For me, music should be very human - in some ways imperfect . And most importantly, it should communicate something. This all generally comes from the compositional side not the production side. I‘m interested in using music to reflect life.

You've done commercial commissions and some of your pieces have been featured in commercials. What did you learn from these for your recording output and in how do you feel about producing "functional" music compared to the freedom of your Talvihorros albums?
For me, commercials and commissions has been generally a positive experience as it has made me consider the music a bit more – what is it doing? What does it need to do? How will I achieve it? It‘s music as a functional entity rather than something that I do for fun or to communicate a feeling and, as such, I have to be way more disciplined. It’s kept me questioning what I’m doing and taught me not to get attached to anything. I get plenty of 'thats not working, start again', which can be hurtful if you don‘t approach it in the right way.

It seems the more commercial work I‘ve done, the more I‘ve defined what Talvihorros is and the more I enjoy it when I get time to work on this project. I’m now more aware of what I want to achieve with the Talvihorros project and where I want to take it. It‘s become very controlled and, as such, has opened a door for me to explore other styles and influences – either with other people or under different monikers myself. Sometime next year will see the first release under my own name, featuring material that is steeped more in classicism and focusing much more on the cinematic aspect of my work under Talvihorros. A new Talvihorros album will also appear at some point in 2015 too.

Talvihorros Interview by Tobias Fischer
Image by Jonathan Birch

Homepage: Talvihorros