Graham Lambkin: Salmon Run

Navel-Gazers #30 is an interview with Graham Lambkin who is going to talk to us about Salmon Run. In the 15 years since this album was produced I seem to detect its influence - perhaps subliminally or indirectly - in so much of what people have been doing with sound recording nowadays. The way it provides a glimpse into the domestic life of the artist.. the way it blurs the boundaries between original and borrowed materials.. the way it seems to double down on its own technological imperfections.. and above all its persistent but understated celebration of the banal and the everyday as an object of concern. Maybe you could say it’s no longer the only record of its kind, but every time I listen to ‘Salmon Run’ it’s like uncovering some rare artefact of significance, almost like record collecting was in the days before the internet, when only a handful of intrepid listeners would have shared an esoteric awareness of such music. As for Graham - who was part of The Shadow Ring, a cult experimental group throughout the 90s - he’s back in the UK nowadays but ‘Salmon Run’ seems to date back to a long period of time he spent in America and that’s part of what I want to ask him about. What is the story behind this strange work I keep revisiting again and again? And who is this guy, Graham Lambkin?

AC: Thanks for joining me on Navel-Gazers! And thanks for indulging the format here where we focus on a single album - I’ve just reviewed your interview on Tone Glow and maybe the difference in format will allow us to avoid retreading all the same topics from that discussion.

Do you like talking about your work? Are you ever reluctant to?

Graham Lambkin: That depends on the questions. If I feel like they've been asked>answered enough in the past I'll be less enthused by the prospect.

AC: (Guessing this has never been asked) do you recall the first time you were interviewed?

Graham Lambkin: This would have been for a small New Zealand xeroxed/stapled fanzine called Insample from 1993. They were one of the first publications to show interest in The Shadow Ring and my then label Dry Leaf Discs. Funny you ask, as I just saw the issue in question again after almost three decades over in New York at the Blank Forms space where I've been for the last month working on the Shadow Ring reissue project.

AC: Am I right in thinking you lived in New York when you made ‘Salmon Run’? And not New York City, but somewhere upstate?

Graham Lambkin: Yes, I lived upstate in Poughkeepsie between 2000-2018 - a couple of hours north of Manhattan.

AC: Right. ..actually fun fact: I stayed a night in Poughkeepsie in 2008! so that was around when you made Salmon Run, but before I’d ever heard it. Rather random locale, what were you doing there? Tell me about Poughkeepsie.

Graham Lambkin: My wife at the time worked there, so that's how I ended up in Upstate. My version of Poughkeepsie was quite small, and as a non-driver, limited to essential shopping by foot and post office drops for Kye. I can't remember ever going into The City of Poughkeepsie for anything; all my business was over in The Town.

AC: What about on this last trip, did you visit Poughkeepsie?

Graham Lambkin: I have family and friends there so it was my first stop.

AC: Ok so in terms of timelines it looks like your move roughly coincided with the dissolution of Shadow Ring and also the launch of your Kye label. Were you embracing this as an opportunity to work as more of a solitary artist, or were you keen to connect with other artists in America? What did you have in mind?

Graham Lambkin: These things all merged together in the same year. After we'd (The Shadow Ring) recorded the Lindus LP we knew there was one more record we needed to make, but that it would also be our final one. That ended up being the I'm Some Songs LP which we recorded in 2001 in Poughkeepsie in three shifts: Tim came over for two weeks and we prepared various electronics/tapes backgrounds, then Darren arrived after Tim's first week and we rehearsed and recorded the pieces as a trio, then Tim left and Darren stayed for another week and we worked on vocal overdubs and effects. After that I mixed the thing and we were forever done. My first so-called solo LP Poem (For Voice & Tape) grew out of tapes we had made for Lindus the previous year in Folkestone but was finished in Poughkeepsie that same year, and was the first release on Kye in an edition of 200 - that one sat unloved for six years - I couldn't give the thing away. But at the same time all that was happening I had started working in the trio Tart with Scott Foust and Karla Borecky. Unlike The Shadow Ring we'd play live often and a lot, usually around the Western Mass area, but also in Miami and NYC. Tart's first LP Radio Orange came out in 2001 as well. There wasn't a plan, it was just how the cards fell.

I love improvisation and to this day continue to spawn many of my studio-based compositions this way.

AC: I’m sorry to hear that ‘Poem (For Voice & Tape)’ struggled to find an audience, listening to that now over coffee!

Let’s fast-forward to ‘Salmon Run’ in 2007. How did this album originate? What was going on in your life at the time?

Graham Lambkin: I took a bit of a break from releasing music after the second Tart LP 'Bring in The Admiral' came out around 2003, and focused instead on working with photographic collage and self-portraiture (some of which is evidenced in the Millows book). One of the things I fell into the habit of doing during this time was making audio recordings of myself at work around the home: the sounds of the camera and of myself shuffling around and setting up different situations - sometimes there would be music on in the background, or sometimes not. I had also been working at the request of Scott for material that Idea Fire Company could build into their then-upcoming LP The Island of Taste, so a little collection of curious new things had started to amass. My first son, Oliver, was also born around that time and I was busy as a new father and some of those early interactions went down on tape too.

AC: So are you saying that 'Salmon Run' includes the audio recordings you're talking about there? Does the source material go back a few years then?

Graham Lambkin: It looks back to the a year or so before the thing finally came out. The work for 'Island of Taste' started end of 2006, and the photographic work had started before that. None of this would have come about at all if the label HP Cycle had not written with an invitation to pry me out of early retirement by releasing a new LP - the irony being they rejected my early draft of 'Salmon Run' as they took offence to the "classic music" parts on it. So through this I decided to reactivate Kye six years after 'Poem (For Voice & Tape)' and put it out myself.

AC: Did they have any IP concerns with the classical bits or did they just not dig it?

Graham Lambkin: I think it was more the atmosphere of the thing that didn't sit well with them - hard to remember now.

AC: You don't strike me as a particularly "compromising" artist, I guess you just carried on making it the way you liked?

Graham Lambkin: Absolutely.

AC: Ok so what I've always wondered about that classical music, first of all what is it? but what I especially wonder, was that just something playing on the radio? Or are you playing a record, which might imply that your selection is more deliberate?

Graham Lambkin: I never kept a written list of which pieces ended up on the album so I can only remember the more obvious things like the Wyschnegradsky and the Glinka Choir mix... some Gurdjieff/DeHartmann played in reverse, but I'd have to go back and try to find all the original source recordings which is not something I've ever done. I understand there are places online where people have identified all the samples but the record was never that preconceived, so a lot of the pieces were just cut from wider recordings of (sometimes) music being played back in personal situations which were then edited/mixed into shape.

AC: Guess someone could always "Shazam" it, if they wanted to drain all the magic and mystery out of things. I'll leave that to our readers' discretion!

I keep calling 'Salmon Run' it, but when was there an "it"? At what point did you decide you were working on a specific album with a title, cover, etc.?

Graham Lambkin: The original version I submitted to HP Cycle was a little different in that Currency of Dreams was absent from the running order, even though it was one of the first things to be recorded and the piece that made me think of maybe making a new album. Once I decided to put it out myself on CD I dropped that track in as the centrepiece and 'Salmon Run' seemed complete. Several tracks from 'Salmon Run' had also appeared the year before on the Draining The Vats compilation cassette but they were untitled at that time and credited to 2005 and still two years away from home. The original cover concept for 'Salmon Run' showed a rough-ready collage of North American wildlife and hand-scrawled credits but that was scrapped and things radically simplified down to a crappy shot of me drunk in the kitchen, played out across front and back sides.

AC: What are you laughing about at 4:25 of 'The Currency of Dreams'?

Graham Lambkin: This track was recorded during a photographic shoot and I was laughing at the results as I reviewed them in the viewfinder.

AC: So a clip like that also makes me wonder… it sounds like you had the tape running at home a lot during this period. The sounds which appear on ‘Salmon Run’, are those the ones which especially caught your ear among all the footage? Were you chucking random clips in indiscriminately, or were less-interesting or less-relevant sounds discarded?

Graham Lambkin: Exactly. I like to start by recording in loose, broad strokes, bringing in as much general information as possible. Once that's been assimilated I will then cut the main parts I want to work with, but oftentimes I'll return to the 'scraps' for detailing and overdubbing purposes. 'Salmon Run' formed over an approx 18 month period but most of the same source material went into the creation of its follow up Softly Softly Copy Copy which was assembled almost exclusively from offcuts so very little gets wasted in a general sense.

AC: I guess what I'm getting at as far as random vs curated clips, or records vs radio... some people probably hear a record like 'Salmon Run' or 'Softly Softly...' and figure it's all spontaneous or arbitrary but it's not really, is it? You have passages which go in certain spots, a track that's the centrepiece, etc. Are you biased either way towards improvisation vs composition in your approach, or do you embrace both aspects?

Graham Lambkin: They're definitely both present. The improvisational aspect would come at the onset on the project and the compositional would follow after. Something like 'The Currency of Dreams' is basically a live improvisation with a couple of cuts, whereas The Brendan Drill is a built up collage of unrelated sounds that has a deliberate compositional structure. The trick is to blend the two.

AC: Are you saying you always work that way, composition follows improv?

Graham Lambkin: It's always been the way I choose to work.

AC: In the booklet for your Solos boxset you say that ‘Salmon Run’ is loosely about “Sasquatch, bears and other North American wildlife”. That was not obvious to me, could you elaborate on it?

Graham Lambkin: There was a point in the early development of the record where I wanted to focus on the outdoor field recordings I had made and create some kind of narrative about the daily lives and survival techniques of north American wildlife, with periodic oration almost like a special for radio. The original artwork supported still reflected that but as the record changed hands it became more inward facing and personalised and the wildlife theme reduced to an undersketch.

AC: I see.. well I didn’t think I’d be saying this but ‘Salmon Run’ now makes some “sense” to me. Like any artist you’ve drawn from your surroundings and experience. It’s your recording practice - that peculiar balance of improvisation and composition - and the unusual environs of The Town, which make the listening experience so unique.

Before I let you go, I’ve picked out a few more moments from ‘Salmon Run’ and I wonder if you can tell us what it is we’re hearing:

The thundery bursts at 1:50 of Glinkamix

Graham Lambkin: A loop of pitch-reduced New York State thunder.

AC: The dry cakey sound at 4:05 of Jungle Blending

Graham Lambkin: Fingers pulled through a carpet.

AC: The distant clanging at 2:51 of Cementspawn

Graham Lambkin: Pitch-reduced objects in a watergarden.

AC: The tiny squealing at 2:26 of Baby & Fox

Graham Lambkin: Could be my then infant son or a bird.

AC: The rapid sequence of sounds between 5:17 and 5:35 of The Bridge to Aria / Salmon Run

Graham Lambkin: Sounds like it could be me talking to someone on the phone..I'm talking to someone... maybe myself?

AC. Haha right. Nice!

Well thanks for talking to me Graham! Lastly, any current or upcoming projects you'd like our readers to be aware of?

Graham Lambkin: Look out for the impending and definitive 12 disc Shadow Ring boxset/book on Blank Forms later this year. There will also be a new illustrated book on Penultimate Press at some point... and speaking of which -do check out Mark Harwood's new LP Offering which I edited/mixed and is fabulous.

Thank you very much Andrew. It was a pleasure to chat.

Graham can be found at his website and Bandcamp. A comprehensive boxset of his solo work called Solos is available from Blank Forms.

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