Members: Lori E Allen, Katie Spafford, Deborah Wale
Occupation: Improvisers, Sound Artists, Composers
Current Release: A Hopeless Place on The Wormhole
Recommendations: L: The Oracle, Maggie Nelson; Reverse Child Psychology, Strangulated Beatoffs. No wait! Mozart’s Requiem.
D: I’m gonna be very mindful about this question and tell you what’s getting me going right now.
1.Narok the hell gardens of Thailand www.timeless-shop.com/product/narok
2. Chastity belt – “ Different Now”
K: 1. Faure’s requiem 2: Antonín Dvořák: Cello Concerto in B minor
If you enjoyed this interview with Tears|Ovand, visit their website for more information.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
L: When I was a kid, my mom was pretty stretched for time, so we had stand-in cassette tapes of her reading stories which we played on one of those brown little fisher price tape players. The tapes were so worn you could hear bits of both sides at once, and this made the sense of disembodiment – disembodied mother - particularly fun. Eventually we got another tape recorder and my brother and I live-mixed the storybook themes against each other. Later in my late teens/early 20s, at NYU I met a seductive, slightly dangerous type guy who got me into musique concrete, EDM, and audio piracy. By accident/via romance, it was the collaboration with him by which I started to realise how much I enjoyed manipulating sound, speech, and stories. He had a public access television show which I know he liked much more than me but that didn’t really matter so much because I learned a lot about collaboration and subversion as a creative energy.
D: Its cheesy I know but it totally started for me with seeing a picture of Jim Morrison at my friend’s house in her Dad’s record collection. I was so drawn to him by this mix of attraction and envy. Thankfully this coincided with watching Angel At My Table about Janet Frame’s life and I started writing poetry and collecting records. I still love the Doors and just recently read Janet Frame’s Owls Do Cry. I never contemplated making music because the only formal training I had was getting a grade one in drums at middle school. I gave up the lessons because my teacher did a weird thing with his tongue whilst playing.
I developed a vast passion for collecting all types of music during high school. I went to Newport Gwent to study interactive arts because Brian Eno was a part of the faculty and started to build my record collection. Post graduation, I got a job at music and video exchange in Notting Hill where my obsession could really get a grip. Working there not only did I fill my life with vinyl I also met an array of creative people and one of them, Karl, helped me realise I could make music. We began improvising fooling around and I began to fall in love. The different dimensions of sound you experience as you begin recording and making music got a grip on me. Music and sound feels so seductive to me because I experience it as a form of telepathy.
K: I started writing music as part of my classical training at school and then at Guildhall. I was taught to write using Bach chorale 4 part harmony rules. I got involved in a wider variety of music when I started session recording with bands when I was 18. I recorded with Electrelane who certainly inspired me to want to play in my own band. I started playing in bands in my 20s and my first experience of collaborative writing outside of classical was experimental soundscape music. It was such a great platform for me to learn to be more creative with sound. My early passions were definitely classical. I am a real fan of the romantics like Elgar and this influence is definitely visible in a lot of the cello lines I write. What draws me to music is the expression it’s given me when i haven’t always been able to find my own voice. I experienced grief as a child and creating music has provided such wonderful escapism.
For most artists, originality is first 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? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
L: Yeah. I mostly probably emulated Negativland more than anyone else, both in method and motivation, I guess, because re-contextualising or re-digesting kept me a safe distance from believing in anything; meaning, the pirate manipulation that is growing less and less present in my work came at first from a judgmental standpoint – one in which I could practice creative subversion by exposing something sinister in mainstream media rather than exposing my own complicated emotions to the same subjects. I still try to copy copy, like pick a track I really love and use the development as a template – but it never comes out right as I’ll get carried away with a texture and then sonic elements become more about morphing and bleeding than scaffolding a song structure. I am working more and more with my voice, which is a long time coming – in more ways than just singing.
D: I heard the first Red Crayola record album – The parable of arable land as a teenager and was captivated by the improvisation or should I say free form freak out of it. The vibe of that record stayed with me into a love of improvisation in Jazz and experimental music. At the same time my art teacher at High school gave me a copy of Astral weeks on vinyl and I fell in love with the flow and poetry of that record. When I discovered it was predominantly improvised, I found this very inspiring. The spirituality of improvisation is what really inspires and I feel this connects also to my practice as a therapist. In my early 30s I trained to be a Person-centred therapist and learnt the theories of Carl Rogers - a non-directive form of therapy which encourages a client to discover their own flow within this world; an assisted interconnected mirror into a voyage of self-discovery. The relationship is crucial in this process just as it is in music. Copying for me is connecting and respecting – tempered by my own individual experience, while learning is a non-stop hunger, and creativity a curse and a dream of the ego.
K: Yeah, I think emulating music is a great way of learning and developing yourself. Listening to tracks or genres to find the patterns and styles can really provide a lot of inspiration for your own music. I constantly hear tracks or sounds that give me ideas. I always want to try and recreate things I have heard but by using the cello only, when originally it could have been any instrument or even a machine. I like the challenge of that type of emulation and using the amazing versatility of the cello. When growing up, I know that imitating and copying others was a key part of learning to play the cello. My teachers and peers really inspired me and I would consider playing together like a conversation. We imitate each other in language, through sound, pitch and tone and this is the same with music. My development from classical to where I am now has been frustrating at times and has taken me on a long journey of breaking free and expressing myself. I felt held back by my self confidence and the filtering of my expression ... It’s really only recently I’ve been able to find my own voice.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
L: I think I still have the same compositional challenges. Most of the stuff I produce is very heady. There was a club in New York called RV and it was basically a hole in the wall where the soundscape was druggy and head-filled and provocative and rude. That’s my main problem, stuck in the head/heart and I’d like to make music that talks more to the bones.
D: Composition and production still feels like a mystery to me. I think part of the reason for this is probably because I am the least technical member of Tears|Ov. I still kinda see myself as the Bez of the band in that regard. Over time I have developed more confidence and a desire to create the sounds of my fantasies and visions. The more I experience the processes of recording sounds and producing music, the more multi-dimensional the process becomes and I grow hungry for the time and ability to learn more.
K: My personal composition challenges when I was younger felt like they stemmed from being classically trained. The classical training provided me with such an amazing base on which to creatively write, but it wasn’t until my 20s that I was able to break outside of what felt like classical rigidity and rules. I’ve spent the last few years working on being more open and communicating more widely in my personal life and I think this has helped and is reflected in my musical expression.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
L: In New York City, my first studio was really just my partner’s flat, a very small studio apartment in Gramercy. There were decks, a couple of VCRs, a satellite receiver box, CRT monitor, a gemini mixer and sampler, a drum machine, an 8 track, Teac tape decks, a Nintendo and Atari, a fisher price camcorder PXL-2000, small mixing console, a video mixer, and a portable DAT machine. The gear took up most of the space set up in an L-Shape with an imposing visual composition on the wall behind made of unopened action-figure boxes arranged to spell the word H A T E; kinda lame, and kinda cute. Nowadays my studio has a lot of acoustic instruments: guitars, bass, acoustic piano, drum kit, trumpet and a clarinet; as well as electronics: synths, control surfaces, pedals, sequencers, noisy toys, Fx boards, and of course a computer. The change is because of money. I don’t really have a favourite tool or instrument but the physicality of the guitar and the piano make them always the first place I start with anything. Then of course, I mostly dump them for electronic boxes. Silly really.
D: My first studio was a tape recorder that I recorded radio shows on as a kid, which graduated to the process of tape to tape mixes leading further into DJ-ing. Lori and I have gradually built up our set up over the last 10 years collecting guitars, pedals, percussion and synths. I joked with a friend recently that the synths is my midlife crisis. I certainly want to run away with the Korg MS 2000 and have a long sordid affair.
K: I’ve never really had a studio it’s just me and my cello. I’ve had this cello for almost 20 years.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
L: Start with loops and cut or extend until it becomes meditative and the meaning vanishes or changes or both. I think the most underestimated technology we have is language, and sometimes, it’s our daily language, particularly the beliefs embedded in turns of phrase, is what is truly mechanistic.
D: I use technology for Tears|Ov predominantly for research processes. So much easy access to music is exciting but also overwhelming at times. I still love to go to a charity shops and see what the trash gods have thrown my way. When I’m writing lyrics the instant accessibility to history around themes and concepts that I am interested is really useful. Coming from Generation X and a small island I know the limitations of the local library.
This concept of a feedback mechanism between technology and creativity involving humans and machines makes me think of a hall of mirrors. For me machines are an echo of ourselves in the futile pursuit of controlling nature. Excelling is a farcical notion when you look at the creativity of nature. Despite this harsh critique, or should I say feedback, I am amused at the games that we play with machines.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
L: I studied ancient Latin in school. Mr Spraley, my teacher, was constantly marvelling at the fact that a Latin sentence could be cut into its component parts, thrown into the air, and still mean the same thing however it landed. That’s a crisis for poetry! Having a DAW by which it is easy to play with order – whether it’s pitch, word, texture, definition, is a really rough and ready way to play with contextual determinacy, to couplet, divorce, silence, transform. Production tools help to re-sequence your own thought structures.
K: Despite playing in an electronic band, I’m not massively into using technology when I play. I prefer to create loops and effects myself, rather than rely on pedals and machines. The human interaction means it’s never the same twice and it’s never quite as rhythmically perfect. I think the human ear can sense that and is pulled in by it.
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?
L: I love collaborative work and prefer it. I still feel quite shy/ lack confidence about my creative process that feels in need of an interpreter much of the time. Collaboration validates that, as well as just the simple fact that I love shooting the shit with anyone about anything. And I’m pretty good at asking questions and interpreting intent.
D: I feel that I am constantly looking for things or people get me out of my head. That is how I see collaboration: as an opportunity and a challenge to myself, my self-obsession. I see the bands technique as predominantly a collage of mediums, concepts and interpretations so in that regard I feel like I am collaborating with randomness and chaos predominantly.
K: Music is all about collaboration to me. it’s a language that can so beautifully express how we feel. I prefer to write collaboratively and have an idea or a concept to build on. The way we write music together is hugely iterative and improvised and it’s definitely my preferred style of making music.