Thursday, 20 September 2007

Autobiographical (part one)

To get this blog off to a mediocre start, I thought I'd do a big long rambling post about who I am, what I think about stuff, and the music I write.

I live in Southampton, in a flat with four rats (Lily, Rita, Pearl and The Monkey), a shitload of instruments+recording equipment and no people. I'm currently in the process of becoming a professional academic - I received my BA earlier this year (English and Film Studies, First Class Honours) and am going to be receiving full AHRC funding to pursue a Film Studies MA next month. After that, I'm hoping to do a PhD and become a lecturer, but possibly not in this country. My area of specialisation is post-war films that deal with Nazism and the Holocaust, and more specifically those that deal with the performer in Nazi Germany (e.g. Mephisto, Lili Marleen, Invincible, Black Book etc).

I grew up in suburban West Sussex, close to a large expanse of open countryside and woodland, which I used to explore from a very early age. These landscapes are important to me. I was normally alone - I didn't mix a lot with other children. As a kid, most of my life took place in my head, and this is something I can trace into my adult life: Caina essentially involves an escape into my interior world, but nowadays I bring back artifacts from it and let people listen to them.

I started the project in November/December 2004, about a month after I picked up a guitar for the first time ever. The early demos (1 track in December o4, 3 more in May 2005) are pretty much in keeping with how you'd expect someone who loved Black Metal but could barely play to sound like if they were locked in a rehearsal room for three hours. In short: not great.

The second demo 'The Cold Taste of Perdition', was recorded in June 2005, but represented a much higher level of commitment, if not ability, incorporating avant-garde elements. I'd invested in my own recording equipment, which meant I had a lot more time to focus on the music itself, and to chop and change elements. A while after its release it was featured in Zero Tolerance's demo section, and given 5/6. This demo was picked up for commercial release on tape by France's long-respected Drakkar Productions, and they requested another for a joint release. This I duly did, emerging with 'The King Beneath' - I'm not very happy with this recording, as I felt under pressure to incorporate certain elements that I otherwise wouldn't have included. After the two tapes release, Drakkar and I had certain problems which meant that I would only ever see the finished products over a year and a half later when a fan bought me a copy of each demo. I'm not here to talk shit about them, but we won't be working together again.

Shortly after this, a self-released split between myself and now-defunct UK Black Metal act Vivid Dreams was arranged, but around the time of it's intended release, Vivid Dreams was suddenly reclassified as an NSBM project. Because I believe fundamentally in democracy and free speech, I can't do anything about those whose ideologies would rob us of those principles, other than politely and articulately object. Indeed, some excellent NSBM records have been released. Art should have no boundaries, whether they be creative or sociopolitical. However, I can't personally associate with such people, or musically collaborate, because of the fact that our ideologies (and thus our entire worldview and outlook) are so fundamentally different. So, I stopped printing the CDs after 17, and the project was essentially shelved. I consider it an official release only because it is important to remember and take responsibility for ones mistakes.

The Caina material on the recording is very substandard, and I will also never self-release again because I believe wholeheartedly that if the music is good enough, someone will release it. The (music) world doesn't owe anyone a living - just because you've 'created' something, doesn't mean that the public "have to hear it". It implies a gross artistic egotism to assume the role of sole mediator between your art and the consumer - I believe that as an artist you need an intermediary, because when the relationship works properly the label also acts as an editor and no-bullshit adviser.

During this period of activity I was struggling under the weight of a severe bout of clinical depression, for which I was receiving therapy. The difficulties with the demo release didn't help matters, and I was in a pretty sorry psychological state when God Is Myth, my 'night in shining armour' brought themselves to my attention when I saw a flyer for their releases in a CD I bought from them in an eBay auction. I shot them an email and very quickly established a good rapport with label owner Todd Paulson, which continues to this day. After I sent a CDR of some recent and past recordings, Todd was impressed enough to offer me half of a split with Cruel Harvest. However, when I collated the material for the split and sent it off, Todd insisted that instead he put out a full length Caina album. This was in about April 2006, and by June I'd hastily got some more material together to make a full length, which was released in July. The album, Some People Fall, was essentially a patchwork of various things - some material was only weeks old at the time of release, others over a year. Although the album received some great reviews and a strong reaction from 'fans', I became increasingly dissatisfied with the end product. The production is thin and inconsistent, and in some places the songwriting simply isn't there. However, even I (a hideous self-critic) could tell that there was promise.

By the time the album was released, I had decided to tackle my problems with drugs and alcohol head-on, and when doing the promotion was totally pot and booze free for the first time in a long while. However, whilst this was an undoubtedly positive manoeuvre, my personal relationships were strained and fragile, and the events of the coming months (including the recording sessions for 'Mourner') would do little to remedy this situation....

((((continued later this week))))


Dominic said...

It implies a gross artistic egotism to assume the role of sole mediator between your art and the consumer - I believe that as an artist you need an intermediary, because when the relationship works properly the label also acts as an editor and no-bullshit adviser.

I think it's generally true that editors and no-bullshit advisers can be force-multipliers for art; good PhD supervisers, too. The notion that mediation inevitably dilutes is narcissistic, as you say.

I think the alternative model to releasing material through a label is not that of narcissistic self-broadcasting, however, but of peer evaluation. Being a bit of a folkie, I sometimes sit in on sessions where musicians are basically performing for other musicians, some of them total amateurs and some of them semi-pro. I don't think these sessions are acts of collective vanity; for one thing, even if you're fairly hot stuff, the chances are pretty good that sooner or later you'll bump into someone much better than you.

In all of the scorn directed at bloggers and myspace-musicians, I see very little recognition that this kind of participatory dynamic might exist there as well - the assumption seems to be that either you're pushing stuff out via some legit publisher to passive "consumers", or you're making an unsightly exhibition of yourself. It's like the old distinction between "proper" publishers and the "vanity" presses. In certain respects the legitimation of the "proper" publisher is a bit of a confidence trick: the Bloomsbury intellectuals set up their own press (the Hogarth) and published each other...

Black metal has an established culture of aspiring musicians recording (generally fairly shitty) tapes of their efforts and trading them; the "consumer" in this case will like as not be a "producer" as well (certainly, given the elitism endemic in BM circles, a harsh and unsparing critic...). The whole "kvlt" thing is really about preserving the value of the in-crowd ambience this generates, I think - there's the fear that something about the music changes when it passes out of the circuit of gift-exchange and becomes a "product".

The choice I think is not between the mediation/legitimation offered by the label and vain self-exposure, but between different kinds of mediation and different contexts of reception. I'm reasonably happy at the moment to make music for a quite vanishingly small number of like-minded people, and learn my chops in the process; on the other hand, the book I'm writing has a publisher and a contract behind it, and will hopefully reach an audience beyond any network I could hope to discover by myself.

Andy said...

The whole "kvlt" thing is really about preserving the value of the in-crowd ambience this generates, I think - there's the fear that something about the music changes when it passes out of the circuit of gift-exchange and becomes a "product".

Absolutely, however it's interesting to see that there's a paradoxical tension created by this: the largely label-less myspace black metal generation appears nowadays to exchange (their own) music almost in the form of pure information - on CDRs and via Mp3, which for me devalues the album experience and therefore the music itself.

I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling that much of the joy of being a 'musical consumer' comes from album packaging and the format - something that I feel is lost in the cliquey-exchange of music as information. The label is important not neccessarily as a badge of authenticity or quality - but as a co-producer, a facilitator or artwork, format, posters ('artistic promotion').

In this sense I have absolutely no problem with the self-distribution of music for the music's sake, but when it is sold online as a shoddy basement produced CDR, as I have seen so many times on myspace (and was attempted with the illfated split) for me it attains not an air of mystique or 'kvltness', but arrogance that people would want to own such an item.

Antti said...

An interesting read. Also kind of wanted to point out that I too created a blog for the (steadily) forthcoming zine. Nothing's up there yet basically, but I really hope the blog spot will serve as a channel for the readers to give their feedback on the zine once it's out and so on. Anyway, hope you're well!

Nikt said...

"I believe fundamentally in democracy and free speech" - what a pity, therefore you do believe in modern idols of the mob... that guy from Vivid Dreams looks like an idiot, and some of his songtitles support this opinion, but I always considered such public apologies as somewhat demeaning for the artist. And it's not about the NS beliefs, it's just the demeaning character of justifying oneself in front of the public. Nonethless, thanks for interesting music (and sorry for my English).