Name: Andy Falconer
Occupation: Artist, producer, audio engineer
Current release: This Friday will see the release of The Heavens, the debut album of Andy Falconer's new project Sedibus. For it, Falconer reunited with Alex Patterson, with whom he worked while he was part of The Orb in the early 90s. That line-up, further complemented by, Thomas Fehlmann, Killing-Joke's Paul Ferguso and Youth as well as Trash, was responsible for the classic The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld. First signs of a comeback was Andy contributing a remix to the latest Orb remix album, Abolition Of The Royal Familia (Guillotine Mixes), whose hazy soundscapes and gentle drum pulse hinted at what's to come. Describing The Heavens, Andy says: "Organic in feel and clearly referencing our shared roots, ‘The Heavens’ is an immersive journey of ambient electronica which not only references a source, but the distance travelled from that point of origin to something new." Order here.
Recommendations: Firstly I'd like to recommend the album The Heavens by Sedibus. Which is available on the Orbscure label.
And secondly I'd recommend one gigantic work to behold. Go to Venice in September and then stand in Piazza San Marco just in time for sunrise over the Grand Canal. The splash of first light on the Palazzo Ducale and San Marco is simply high art in stunning form.
If you enjoyed this interview with Andy Falconer of Sedibus, visit his personal website for biographical information and updates. He is also on Facebook.
You can also read our interview with his partner in Sedibus in our Alex Patterson / The Orb interview about sound.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
1980 would have been the year when I first started making music with a buddy of mine from school. We were two kids with a couple of mono synths, a drum machine, a cassette deck and a thirst to create something of our own.
I think that first creative spark and love of music was lit by two of my earliest memories. Playing at my mother's feet while she sang along with the radio, and the music I'd hear coming from my older brother's room. Muffled snatches of Bowie, Eno, Fripp, Pink Floyd, T-Rex, Focus and early Queen. Music that moved me and fascinated me in a way that the Top 40 never had.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
For sure I'm influenced by other artists, and just about everything else in life that goes on around me. But I don't think I've ever consciously sat down to do something and said. “I want it to sound like song X or artist Y”. On the other hand there are moments when I'm working on a tune, and suddenly I'll sit up and realise that it, or an element of it, reminds me of something else. But I think that's normal.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Identity and creativity are for me indelibly intertwined. To create is to express who I am.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
At the start it was all about trying to do something with nearly nothing, as just about everything I wanted/needed was out of my price range. Whenever I listen back to really early demo tapes I'm always struck by just how creative we were with so little. It's hard to imagine it nowadays, especially as I'm now in the reverse situation and have more than I really need.
But it's a luxury that can bring it's own set of problems. I now live in a world of nearly limitless creative possibilities and permanent full digital recall. There are no limitations any more, and sometimes I have to set my own.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
My first exposure to a musical instrument was being sent to piano lessons as a little kid. I hated it at the time and could hardly wait to give it up, which I did. Then in my teens music really clicked, and all my friends were picking up guitars and forming bands. As my only experience was with the piano, my attention turned to synths. It took me all summer working Saturday shifts in a supermarket to save up enough money to buy my first one. A Radio Shack MG1 which was a licensed version of the Moog Rogue. Then came a SR-88 drum machine, a Wasp, a TB-303 and a Korg Delta, my first polyphonic keyboard.
Then I got a job as a tape-op in a studio and everything changed. As I became homeless shortly after I got the job, I moved into the studio and slept on the control room couch for a year. Turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. I worked every session going day or night and when I wasn't on a session I was experimenting. I must have slept sometime but I don't remember when. Eno was my inspiration and I wanted to learn to use the studio not just to record and mix, but to shape sound. I learned so much so quickly, and for a while the studio itself became my preferred instrument.
That was back in the early 90's and now that's all changed. Most of the big famous studios I once worked at are gone and analogue tape has become a novelty for people who want to try going Old School. As we all know, it's now all in a laptop and available at a price that puts the creative power previously enjoyed by only studios and producers into the hands of just about everybody.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I don't think there's been anything that's made me question how I make music. But there have been two important technological moments that at the time changed how I worked. The first was the arrival of MIDI, the Atari 1040 and the first generation of samplers. Real game changers and just so many new possibilities. A very exciting time to be in the studio, especially for someone who played keys.
The second and without a doubt the biggest technical change was the arrival of the Digital Audio Workstation. Pandora's box was opened.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I spent the pre-digital part of my career almost always working with other people, and doing it in the same room. You get a great energy from that and it's a way of working I'll always value. However the arrival of DAW's and high-speed internet suddenly made it so much easier to work on your own or from a distance, and it's something I've found I prefer.
Working alone gives me the I feeling I can noodle about with an idea for hours and follow my muse. And all without thinking I'm boring the pants off somebody else who's waiting over my shoulder for me to finish. It's really much better if they're sitting in the UK or wherever getting on with something else. Then we exchange files, we call, we text, we comment, we inspire, and the work goes on.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I am probably among the most unscheduled of persons when it comes to my day. When I wake, when I sleep, and when I work is always changing. As for how my life affects my music and vice versa? I know my mood and therefore my life affects my music, and I know that my music affects my mood and therefore my life. So I guess it's a complicated feedback loop going on and blending the aspects together.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Without doubt the biggest breakthrough event in my career was the day Alex Paterson walked into the studio. As I've already mentioned, at the start of my career I had an intense time of experimentation and perfecting of exotic recording techniques. The only trouble was, none of the commercial pop or rock sessions that I was doing at the time were interested in such audio voodoo.
That changed the first time I met Alex while working on the Art Of Noise Ambient Collection album with Youth. Alex had come down to lay down the ambient bridges between tracks, and we hit it off straight away. So much so that shortly afterwards he asked me to take the technical driving seat for the production of the Orb's debut album. Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld.
It turned out to be the moment I'd been waiting for. Suddenly I could fully exercise all my sonic fantasies, and thinking outside the box was not only welcome, but required. The Ultraworld album and associated sessions remain a major event in my career that opened so many doors for me.
The first was the confidence those sessions gave me to openly express myself in ambient and unorthodox terms within a commercial environment. Not least of all, my association to the album opened up many more interesting creative opportunities and was an undeniable boost to my career. It was something very special, and I am eternally grateful to Alex for inviting me to be a part of it, and for being so generous in allowing me such a free hand with all my contributions.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
It probably comes from all my years of working in commercial studios, but I have no problem to be creative on demand. Sure it's great to be able to write when it's just because you want to, but nowadays there is nearly always a deadline lurking somewhere. But that's OK as I've always been able to say. “I'm sitting down to write the next album on date x because it needs to be finished by date y.” And then I do it.
When I am creating there are three forms of writing, or states. There's the one where I have a clear picture in my head of how the track is going to be. I start work and I'll finish up with a piece that is just how I imagined it. Then there is the second version where my clear idea is suddenly hijacked by spontaneous inspiration, and the work goes off at a tangent and morphs into something new. The important point of note in both of these examples, is that I'm still in the driving seat and am consciously creating. The third version is a little more difficult to express but is best described as. “The work writes itself”. I can remember the session, but I can't remember the details or how I did it or played it.
Sometimes I joke that these tracks are gifts from the gods or the muses, but regardless of the source, it's a gift I'm grateful for and one I'm unwilling to examine too closely in case I jinx it and it'll go away.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Wow. This is a big question and one which I don't really feel qualified to answer in full.
One thing I can say, and one of the reasons that I love music, is that it's such a multidimensional medium that can function on so many different levels. It's a time machine that can take you back to a specific place and point in time. It's the touch of love, a soothing balm, euphoria, a dagger through the heart and so much more. It's magic.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Another big question, and to be honest. It's really not a subject I've had a conversation about before, and so I'm not sure if this is the best place to start.
But the first thing that jumps into my mind is the word “respect”.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Synaesthesia is the first thing that springs to mind, but I must admit to feeling a little sceptical of people who claim they can really see sound as a detailed “picture”. Having said that, I often say to myself that I can picture a piece of music in my head rather than saying I hear it. I think that's because I often experience a feeling of visualisation, but it's just that. A feeling that I can't quite place my finger on.
Also I do tend to think of the space between my speakers as a blank canvas just waiting to be painted onto and filled up with sound. Having said all that, I don't feel visualisation is any sort of special creative power, but simply another manifestation of the power music has to effect us all.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
In a lot of my earlier works I often used vocal parts which would contain some sort of sociopolitical message. However I was always rather trying to pose questions rather than make statements. However it's something that I've moved away from and I'm now interested in more subtle ways to evoke a reaction on a deeper emotional level.
My approach to my art has always been to please myself first. I may be writing for a release, but I'm always writing for me. Of course I hope I'll be lucky and other people will like it too, but that's a consideration that's never in play in the creative process.
While I may not take my public into account when I'm writing. I am very grateful for them and all the lovely people who support me and my music. As an artist, it's something I cherish and never take for granted.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Let's just refer back to music is magic.