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Interview with Graham Bowers

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Fine, thank you. I am still here at my home and work place on the Isle of Anglesey in Wales.

What’s on your schedule at the moment?
I recently completed the modelling of a figurative piece of sculpture, and have spent some time investigating, researching and discovering alternative processes to replace the traditional methods of foundry casting for the ‘finished’ work. I would love to ramble on and enthuse on my findings, but sculpting isn’t the subject matter or the reason for these ’15 Questions’…. however I would like to comment, on the phenomenal advances and usage of ‘digital technology’ in this area of production and industry: A 3D scan of the sculpture using a piece of equipment called the ‘Faro Arm’ and interfacing the information with either a ‘Sintering machine’ or ‘Stereolithography machine’, enables an exact facsimile of the original object, in this instance my sculpture, to be produced in a variety of materials, and to any scale. To witness the creation, growth and manifestation of the sculpture within the machines, building in layers of 0.10 millimetre thickness, from absolute zero to a fully formed ‘object’ is a very esoteric and ‘spooky’ experience …

You’re obviously interested deeply in the technical aspects of the issue...
Although the process is a relatively new concept and is easily explainable in terms of physics, binary mathematics and machine technology, it nevertheless has an unmistakeable ‘air’ of magic and ‘raises the hairs on the back of the neck’ when one considers, contemplates and fantasises  where this could lead to, when working at the atomic and sub-atomic levels … carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and a few other essential elements …

Are you composing right now?
Finding time to work in the recording studio in the summer months is almost impossible, as I have several acres of land to maintain, so I have reluctantly accepted that autumn and winter is the time to concentrate on the musical side of my activities. Looking at the positives of this, it gives me time to ponder and ruminate over future works. I have a piece ‘in progress’ that I will return to, along with a project with William Henshall, where we intend to re-record his back catalogue of ‘mainstream songs’, these will be released under his ‘other’ name of ‘Hawkins’ on a new record label.

You’ve become an active part of the MySpace community of lately – how has that been working out for you?
I opened a ‘MySpace’ account about twelve months ago on the recommendation of a friend, but to be honest “I just couldn’t be bothered” and didn’t look at it for about three or four months. I was reminded again, by the same friend, and had another look and decided that I should make an effort …. I have to say that the effort paid dividends, in terms of becoming aware of how much music there is ‘out there’, and quality music at that. There has been some very rewarding discoveries of excellent music, along with some worthwhile connections … nevertheless, after a spell of intense activity, I have limited my visits to once or twice a week as it soon became apparent that there are many people out there ‘just collecting friends’ and the time spent, sat in front of the computer waiting for pages ‘overstuffed’ with images and ‘YouTube’ videos to download became an irritation. In answer to your question, I haven’t got a clue whether it has done anything for me in terms of the sales of my music, Snocap have recently implanted their player and sales device on mine and the Red Warf page, whether this has or will result in sales, only time will tell.

All of your works are now also available digitally. How important has the internet become for you in terms of presenting and selling your music?
It goes without saying that the Internet is an amazing phenomenon, and has enabled me to publish all of my published work digitally and the fact that it can be accessed and bought from any part of Planet Earth is nothing short of fantastic …. as it is for the many millions of others out there!!!

The presentation aspect is relatively straight forward, and with the ease of availability of the relevant software, the presentation of one’s music and how it is packaged is now possible to be put together by the individual rather than a commercial advertising/graphics company, whether the individual has the knowledge, experience and talent to create a successful presentation is another matter. I have no idea, how what I have put together for the Red Wharf website would be judged by the professional fraternity … good or bad … I don’t know … one can only do one’s best.

What about about sales?
In terms of sales; there hasn’t been any significant increase in the sale of ‘real’ CDs …. so maybe my presentation is way off the mark? …. digital sales in the form of downloads is on a very slight ascendancy, so all one can do is to ‘keep plodding away’ and attempt to bring the music to the attention of as many people as possible and hope that sales will increase. As I don’t perform and all my musical recording is studio based, the best outlets for me are radio plays, unfortunately there are not that many radio stations that broadcast the genre of music that I work within. However, and not wanting to sound too negative, the opportunities are now there to find and contact people, organisations, media and radio stations at a click of a button, which in many ways has to be to an individuals advantage.

Next to the promotion of your own music, you’ve also been expanding the scope of your Red Wharf label to other artists. Was this part of the plan from the very beginning or something that happened naturally on the way?
It was a natural development, Mel (Dr. Ian D Mellish) an old friend with whom I had worked with many years ago on an experimental theatre project, contacted me and to my surprise hadn’t published or released any of his considerable body of work. I had gone through the ‘pain and torture’ of setting up an account with a digital distributor and to release another artist through the Red Wharf label seemed a simple and straightforward thing to do at the time, so consequently we have released twelve of his albums to date. Similarly so for William Henshall, although we have only released one of his albums, there are more are to follow over the coming months.

I have also included two other visual artists on Red Wharf, John Smith (aka John Lopez Smith) has a ‘wicked’ sense of humour coupled with an endearing sensitivity that I feel is illustrated through his paintings and graphics and was very keen to include his work, which I think compliments the contrasting styles of Mel’s artwork, mine and Clive Walley’s.
Clive Walley is a very close friend with whom I have worked a lot, he has a serious ‘pedigree’ in terms of ‘fine art’ animation for film, as well as being a painter. The inclusion of excerpts of his work on the website, for me at least, adds not only interest but a possible future direction for one aspect of Red Wharf’s activities.

What are your plans for Red Wharf for the future? Should anyone be contacting you with a demo any time soon?
Besides releasing the remainder of Mel’s and William’s back catalogues, my main focus, come October, is to work on my own music and hopefully by the spring of next year I will have a couple of albums worth of music. There are also three figurative sculptures to finish and the visuals to accompany an excellent piece of music to conclude, all of which I intend to complete before the autumn.

Returning to MySpace, I had several requests and enquiries from some very fine musicians and composers asking to release their music through the Red Wharf label. The idea of expanding the label and further establishing it as a label for non-mainstream music really did appeal, but the overall administration work in publishing Mel’s and William’s music, demanded, and still demands, so much time in front of the computer, that the initial appeal of expansion rapidly dissolved. There is the slight possibility of adding another couple of artists, but not at the moment.

One of the works just out on Red Wharf is an EP of your friend William Henshall. As there are some obvious similarities between your styles, would you say he has been an influence on you when you started out with “Of Mary’s Blood”?
Not consciously, I say that as my approach to recording ‘Of Mary’s Blood’ was very much different to any other musical work I have written or been involved with, and the thoughts of what to do and how to do it, had been ‘rattling around in my head’ for several years before working with William, however I certainly accept that when I came to record it there could have been subliminal influences from William’s work, along with a whole gambit of other musical influences buried deep in my memory. 
The EP you refer to is ‘Dark Opus (dancing with demons)’, this was the first collaboration with William, and my role was that of a ‘visual artist’ and stage-set designer, and he as the composer and musician, where he wrote, performed, and recorded a sound-score to a pre-recorded slide projection sequence of my paintings that formed the ‘backdrop’ to a performance work in the form of a modern ballet.

How would you weight the aspects of sculpting/painting and music for your work?
For myself, I perhaps spread myself too thinly across the spectrum of music, painting and sculpture …. In terms of ‘How I weight my own work’ … the best answer I can give is that creating and recording my own music is what gives me the most pleasure and satisfaction.

Would you say there is a mutual influence of the different creative fields you immerse in? Your paintings certainly complement your music perfectly...
There most certainly is, it is the same energy and need for resolution that drives me to paint, sculpt and compose. However it is a long time since I have done any serious painting, the images that adorn my CD covers are taken from sketches I did as a child and teenager, back in the 1950s.  I returned to them several years ago and decided to transpose them into paint and for me there are visual elements within them that reflect, compliment and contrast the emotional expression within my music.

How about Sculpting?

Sculpting or to be more accurate, modelling, is the most difficult; simply because it is three dimensional, and as all my work is figurative and focused on the human form, the work has to be correct and true to the concept and physicality of what it is attempting to say, from which ever angle it is viewed … and these are infinite. Like painting it captures a moment in time that is frozen forever, a concept that continually fascinates me, however with sculpture, because of the three dimensional aspect I have just mentioned, it is possible to accentuate the ‘moment’ through viewing and touching, the ‘all-round’ physical form of the limbs, torso and head, which hopefully contribute to the overall message of what the sculpture is saying. The parallels I find in musical composition, with ‘that captured moment in time’, is the climax or resolution of a passage of music …  the nano-second when the music reaches the crest of a wave, resolves, and gels opening the flood-gates of emotional and physical pleasure.

You mentioned you had no formal musical education and always ask friends to assist whenever you need a certain instrumental passage. How, then, do you tell them what you want without the theoretical vocabulary?
Usually I have a significant amount of the music recorded before I would ask another musician to contribute, so the mood of the piece along with recorded instrumentation gives a good illustration of the body of the piece.  I am also reasonably good and getting better at vocally imitating instruments by ‘doo-de-doohing’ … to roughly indicate the notes and range of octaves that I envisage would sound right, this along with me rambling-on and making references to other pieces of music, on most occasions gets the results I am looking for.

To a large extent, your work is sound-oriented. Where does the source material primarily come from?
The source material, with the odd exception, for all of the work is derived from musical instruments; saxophone, clarinet, recorder, trombone, cornet, bugle, cello, violin, hammer dulcimer, acoustic and electric guitar, piano, percussion. I also make use of an electronic drum pad and on occasions an old synthesizer.
I will (like many others) record any sound that catches my ear, such as the ‘opening and closing of the dishwasher door’, ‘walking across gravel’,’ the slamming of the cutlery draw’ etc. etc. and store it in a sound library for future use.
I don’t have any ‘hard and fast rules’ as to how I digitally treat, manipulate and distort instrumentation and found sounds, it is an organic process relevant to what I am looking for at the time.

Even though your compositions certainly have no typical form, they do seem structured and throughout appear to be “going somewhere”. Do you have them mapped out in any way, before you start working on the details?
Again I don’t have any ‘hard and fast rules, when starting a new work, sometimes I will have a rough ‘road-map’, that could or could not be thrown away once the project is under way. I have ideas to express and illustrate particular aspects of the concept, and many a time whilst working on these, something crops-up that leads on linearly to another section, sometimes it leads on to a sort of reprise, and sometimes there might be just a couple of notes that ‘spark-off’ a whole new idea.

I believe you mentioned your music was “self-therapeutical”. So, was working on the trilogy and on “Pilgrim” a pleasant or a terrifying experience?
“Self-therapeutical” … did I really say that? …  I did find the experience of making the video “On the road to nowhere’’ very therapeutic, but that was because the subject matter was ‘so close to home’ and very personal. Of course, and I am sure that most artists will agree, there is something very therapeutic about creating an artwork, what ever the medium is. The making of the Trilogy gave me a tremendous lift, but once it was finished I couldn’t help but feel that I should have done better, so I was left with a feeling of niggling dissatisfaction. As I said earlier, I spread myself to thinly across the arts, and if I were to spend more or all of my time in the studio making music, I am sure that I would improve the quality of the recording, just by the fact, of more use, more skill, more experience, but that isn’t how I work … when I work on whatever project, it is intense to the point of obsession, and I can’t think of anything else until the work is finished … so sometimes the recording area of my studio is not used for weeks, other times it is up and running 24 hours a day. So the adjectives ‘pleasant’ and ‘terrifying’ are applicable to both my working environment and personal life.

After the completion of the trilogy, in what has the conceptional focus of your albums shifted?
I am not sure what you mean when you say “shifted”, but it is the conceptual aspect of creating music that I enjoy and have a natural affinity towards, so it is an ‘odds-on certainty’ that all my future musical output will be based around some form of concept.
Pilgrim was and still could be the first in a series of works loosely based on the literary work ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ by John Bunyan, however over the last few years I have become increasingly interested in the biology, chemistry and physics of ‘the living cell’, the mechanisms within that tiny universe are so complex and yet so ordered that it makes the mind boggle … so I have been side-tracked and can’t get the musical phrases, sound associations, atomic and molecular identities, that keep springing to mind, out of my head … so maybe I might work on something along the lines of Genetic Mutations, an area I explored some 30years ago when putting together a proposal for a piece of contemporary dance/experimental theatre.

For a work as personal, autobiographical and metaphoric as yours – do you actually believe others can see in it what you see in it?

Certainly not, I accept that there is an ambiguous and amorphous element to all of my music, it may be as you said earlier “structured’ and ‘’going somewhere’’, but I don’t believe for one minute that others are going to read the same meanings into the listening experience as the ones that were responsible for its creation.
I do hope that the sounds, their arrangement, their interplay and the “structure” within which they are placed invoke the same or similar response, both musically and esoterically, as I experienced when putting it all together. To some people it will sound like a chaotic noise, but to some it will trigger their imagination and interest and although the message will be different to different people, a response is reward enough.

By Tobias Fischer

Of Mary's Blood (1996) Red Wharf
Transgression (1997) Red Wharf
Eternal Ghosts (1998) Red Wharf
Pilgrim (2005) Red Wharf

Graham Bowers / Red Wharf
Graham Bowers at MySpace

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