What is Navel-Gazers??

Welcome to Navel-Gazers, where I interview artists I know personally, about their recorded music.

In this first entry I want to provide you some background and some idea of what to expect here.

The idea behind Navel-Gazers would be impossible to explain without first looking back at sound recording in its historical entirety. I've a pretty rudimentary understanding of this so if you'll bear with me, here's:

A Navel-Gazer's History of Sound Recording

The evolution of the "recording artist" has certainly been awkward. Although it’s actually been around since 1860, recording seems to have initially served as a technological utility whose principal function was to capture and archive and/or commodify sound in deference to other, distinct forms of media, such as music composition, music performance, broadcasting and film, rather than as an expressive medium of its own. There exists for example a recording of the English actress Rose Coghlan reading Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade" into a wax cylinder in 1909. It’s a lovely recording but one gathers that Coghlan's recitation, not the recording, is the artwork:


It wasn’t until 1930, with Walter Ruttman’s sound collage “Weekend” - 70 years after the technology had first emerged - that anyone explicitly rendered a recording as a dedicated piece of art, in and of itself. “Weekend” was a groundbreaking production which nevertheless existed in something of a vacuum. Mr. Ruttman, a filmmaker whom I’d love to have interviewed, never produced anything else like this, nor did anyone else for another decade and a half:

The mid 1940's ushered in a tradition of artistic sound recording, alongside the advent of electronic music in its many forms, with Halim El-Dabh's "Weekend"-ish tape manipulations in Egypt and a small community of navel-gazers first coalescing around musique concrete in France. By the 1960's the concept of artistic recording had wound its way into the popular zeitgeist, originally by way of album-oriented rock and then later through hip-hop and in the manifold varieties of mainstream electronica. It exists in the academic curriculum now too, where a modern discipline such as sound art, field recording or electroacoustic music may constitute a legitimate field of focus, even for someone unconcerned with the commercial practicalities of music production or sound design.

The latest and most relevant developments in the evolution of sound recording have of course been the democratization of sound production over the past 40 years (with home recording technology), and of distribution, in the information age of the past 20 years.

Today, even after such well-publicized developments, to refer to oneself as a “recording artist” in an everyday conversation is likely to elicit confusion, blank stares and even a hint of skepticism from most anyone in the general public. As a recording artist is one a producer, an engineer? Some sort of television personality or teen idol? It’s as though not only the term but the very concept of the recording artist is still being held hostage somewhere in the quaint and obsolete world of the 20th century entertainment industry.

Yet among growing numbers of people, for whom recording technologies are now just as accessible as paintbrushes or cameras - if not moreso - sound recordings are a deeply personal and powerful form of expression, as vital and as natural as painting or photography or indeed, playing music on a stage, and maybe quite separate from playing music on a stage, in ways which may be totally unclear to outsiders.

The reason I’ve started Navel-Gazers is because I sense a disconnect between artists and listeners in this overwhelming modern world of recording and distribution, and I see the potential for some thoughtful dialogue around specific material. I’ve appointed myself to do the legwork of discovering such outstanding material for myself and reaching out to the artists. And an interview is the best and most interesting way to shine a light on some really remarkable music for the benefit of listeners and artists alike!

Here’s a little more on what to expect.

What format are the interviews?

For the consideration of artists who are participating, here is how I plan to go about it.

First we'll agree on one album, record, digital release, etc. of yours we're going to cover. I'll then forward you my own introduction - explaining how I encountered this music and how it is that I know you - along with the first question in the interview. Then, even if you're someone I could easily sit down and chat with anytime, I'd suggest that the whole interview is carried out as an email chain. This will give you time to think about your answers and also for me to think about my next question (after each of your answers), thus maintaining some aspects of a normal conversation flow.

You can decline to answer any of the questions or suggest changes to my introduction if you want.

I’ll need a link to listen and I'll ask if you want to provide any photos (of anything really, excluding cringey professional headshots!)

I will normally share your interview on Facebook, on my own page (only) although you can share it too, anyplace!

What styles of music are covered?

I am a London-based experimental musician, so it’s safe to say that at the outset, I expect most of the interviews to be with other London-based experimental musicians. However I don’t actually have any underlying preference on this. I’m interested in all kinds of music and I already have interviews in mind with artists who are neither London-based nor particularly experimental.

Having said that here are three criteria I can think of.
  1. I like it (simple as that!)
  2. You view your album, record etc. as some sort of meaningful artwork or artifact in and of itself. You wouldn't dismiss or begrudge your recording - you wouldn't call it a promotional tool or an obligatory supplement to live performance or to written compositions. This doesn't mean I only want to speak to professional recording artists or really serious, self-important people. It also doesn’t imply you aren’t a live performer or composer or your recording bears no relation to those activities. And it doesn’t necessarily mean your music is heavily edited like “Weekend” or heavily embellished like Sergeant Pepper. It may or may not be. It could be a live recording or a field recording with zero editing! It’s a question of the intention behind the work rather than the methods you used to make it.
  3. The music is available to listeners, online. This is just a constraint of the medium, since this is a blog on the internet. Or, the opposite of a constraint, depending on how you look at it!
Am I always this talkative?

No! I wanted to give a clear idea of what I am trying to do here. The point of Navel-Gazers is to hear from the artists.

On that note please tune in for the first interview, with Martin Clarke who will talk to us about his album slides!

Popular posts from this blog

Zhu Wenbo, Li Song, Yan Jun: There Is No Music From China (compilation)

Bablicon: A Flat Inside A Fog, The Cat That Was A Dog

Natalia Beylis: Library Of Sticks