Part 1

Name: Woo
Members: Clive Ives, Mark Ives
Occupations: Producers, songwriters
Nationality: British
Current Release: Woo's Paradise In Pimlico is out via Quindi.
Recommendations: Wassily Kandinsky 1866 - 1944 the Russian painter and theorist who is credited as one of the pioneers of abstraction in Western art. In his book called ‘Concerning The Spiritual In Art’ he attempts to describe the language of form and colour. Throughout his career, his paintings slowly evolved from figurative images to a language of pure abstraction. This book not only offers a great insight into his understanding of colour, form and abstraction, but also makes a correlation with the abstract language of visual art and the abstract language of music.

Schubert String Quintet in C Major
Many years ago I was a teacher of shiatsu (a Japanese acupressure therapy), and I would use the first five minutes of this music in my class to help the students feel the subtle meridian energy within their bodies. In oriental medicine, each meridian relates to a specific emotion. This music has a profound sadness as well as an incredible transcendent quality. It's understated and minimal structure creates a very intimate and internal listening experience.
If you close your eyes and put your hands on your heart while you are listening, this music has a sublime ability to bring your awareness into your feelings, especially if you stand, breathe slowly and deeply and allow your body to move slowly in response to the music.
You can try this in the comfort of your own home, just look this music up online, stream and follow the instructions above.

If you enjoyed this interview with Woo and would like to stay up to date on their releases, visit the band on Facebook, and bandcamp.  

When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

In 1963 Beatlemania had taken over the world. My brother Mark was ten years old and I was seven. Along with our two best mates we formed a band. I had my grandad’s old drum kit - so I became Ringo. Mark and our friends Antony and David banged guitars. We invited the kids from our street to hear us play in the garage. In our minds we thought we were doing Beatles cover versions. This might not have been obvious to our audience, but they did pay a penny to see us and hear us singing into tin cans on strings for microphones. That’s when our fascination with music was born. Mark started to write his own songs in his teens. I was his biggest fan and joined in with random percussion.

Between 1963 and 1970, the Beatles released thirteen albums. Each release inspired and informed our musical education. As the decade unfolded, the Love Generation blossomed. We were still very young, but with the release of ‘The Magical Mystery Tour’, the song ‘Love Is All You Need’ created an international message of love; one that could be easily understood by people all over the world. It really captured the feeling of the youth during the Summer of Love in 1967.

In the early 70’s I went to see the musical ‘Hair’ with the iconic song ‘Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In’. These lyrics also reflected the spirit of the times:

“When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius” …

The lyrics were mystical and used astrological terms to suggest that world history was about to take a distinct turn for the better. It worked for me!

Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?

I just listen and stay open. When I like a piece of music, it takes me into its world and holds my attention.

I remember the first time I heard Laurie Anderson’s ‘Oh Superman’ on late night radio while I was driving home on a country road. It was so unique and futuristic, I had to stop the car so I could really take it all in.

Working with synthesisers is all about the sounds and textures. I am not a skilled keyboard player, but I am fascinated by how the different sounds can influence how you feel or think, so my approach to music has been more about how sounds combine to create atmosphere and feeling.

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

In the early days, when we were working with our first four-track tape recorder, we quickly realised the process was extremely unpredictable. One example of a ‘breakthrough’ moment came on one of our earliest recordings, a track called ‘The Bird’ from the album ‘It’s Cosy Inside’.

The sound was minimal and soft, with almost a classical structure, but was recorded with synths and echoed guitars, creating a mystical, surreal atmosphere. This was so far removed from what we had created before and opened our understanding of how multi-tracking can produce really unexpected results.

For twenty years Mark and I didn’t work together. But in 2014 we received a call from Tim Yelland from the English Touring Opera. He offered us a commission to make the music for a children’s opera. This project was another breakthrough which led to Mark and I working together again and we’ve regularly worked together ever since!

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.

It seems to me that our sense of identity is primarily formulated in those transition years between adolescence and adulthood.

Growing up in the Sixties, Mark and I wanted to be part of the Summer of Love, not just watching it on telly! This obviously influenced our choices when it came to what music we listened to, what clothes we wore and how often we used the word ‘groovy’. Underlying all these superficial expressions of hippiedom, the era was infused with an optimistic feeling that the New Age was dawning and although no-one knew how it was going to be, it would be far out!

We wanted to emulate all the bands we listened to, which were mainly the English rock bands of the time. As well as the Beatles, there were The Kinks, the Moody Blues, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Hollies, The Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Yes, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Supertramp and Tangerine Dream.

[Read our Tangerine Dream interview]

We were shopping in Kensington Market and Carnaby Street, wearing hipsters and psychedelic shirts. The dominant gangs in South London at the time were Mods, Rockers, Skinheads and Hippies and then the Straights (everyone else). Looking back, our identities were much more clearly defined compared to now, in 2022.

Of course, all our identities are constantly changing. These days if asked to describe my identity, I might say: musician, shiatsu practitioner, proud grandad and avocado eating liberal.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

The key ideas came from emulating the music we loved.

Mark was mainly influenced by Jazz. He always had a passion for improvisation and he brought that spontaneity to the studio. He was in control of the tape decks and had a policy to record almost everything. With the experimental way most tracks began, it was very unpredictable to know when something good would occur, so we recorded, and used the sections we liked to multi-track.

I have always been fascinated with finding ways to combine music and visual art, particularly with the album artwork and videos.

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

What appears as originality in the arts is when something new or different is introduced to what has been done before. The innovation that creates this perceived difference can take many forms. It can happen by accident, by mistake, by chance, by limitations or with intention.

When it comes to recorded music there is the perfect opportunity to listen to these ‘mistakes’ in the playback … and to ponder and reflect. At this point the perfectionist might have a thing or two to say! Sometimes he has a point and sometimes he needs to be ignored. These ‘mistakes’ can be the magic ingredient.

When Mark and I mix a track, each note and noise is considered and faces either immortality or extinction! The mix is the moment of truth.

Does something stay or go?
If it stays … How prominent is it in the mix?
If it goes … wait and see what your ego has to say about it!

Forty years ago, when we started recording, we had limited instruments and recording equipment. These limitations lead to some amazing innovations!These days, I use a software with so many sounds, effects, samples, gizmos, add-ons and intelligent assistants that the challenge is: What do I do with this vast, spotless and endless recording environment and limitless palette? Any creative idea can be pursued.

But beware! If you let the perfectionist get his way, you could get lost deep in some software, tweaking minutia into smaller fractions! The most promising strategy is often the most simple idea. With multi-tracking it’s often tempting to overwork an idea, and make things too complicated.

‘The music of the future’ was definitely our goal, when we were young. The whole attraction to synthesisers was due to their futuristic sounds. In 1974 Tomita created the album Snowflakes Are Dancing in which he reinvented Debussy’s music with synthesizers. Making these iconic compositions futuristic. Wendy Carlos did a similar thing with Beethoven’s music for Clockwork Orange. In 2022, modern samplers can recreate real instruments very convincingly.

I’m finding it very exciting to use these more authentic sounds, still combining them to create a futuristic result.

Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?

Feeding Mark’s guitar into a sequencer, so that the guitar supplied the chord structure with the sequencer dictating the rhythms, was our most used technique. This technique combined the precision and repetition of electronic music with the real feel and expression inherent in the acoustic instruments.

The result, when it worked, was a hybrid of hard to categorise lo-fi sounds, which linked percussion/rhythm and chords in a mysterious and organic way. We still use this technique to rework old compositions.

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