utorak, 19. veljače 2013.

Fovea Hex - Here Is Where We Used To Sing (2011)

Nepostojeći bog bolji je od postojećeg.
Pjevačica Clodagh Simonds ('70-ih je bila u bendu Mellow Candle) okuplja strašnu ekipu i radi zapanjujući spoj melankolije i radosti.


Cult enchantress Clodagh Simonds reunites with her Fovea Hex assembly - counting Colin Potter (NWW), Michael Begg, Brian Eno, John Contreras, Julia Kent and Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo, among others - for their most substantial work to date. It comes after an extended period of quietude since the 'Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent' trilogy, which saw extensive reworks from The Hafler Trio, and presents eleven tracks of the most beguiling, minimal yet expansive arrangements which the ensemble have been widely for. Again, at the core of Fovea Hex is Clodagh's sweetly unsettling voice and Colin Potter's subtle production enhancements, but they'd be much less effective without the rich palette of instrumentation, a slow moving revolution of Cello, Dulcimer, Bells, Seashell Chandalier and more, orbiting the central strings and keys. The guest contributions are numerous but restrained, and after all it would be hard to steal the show from those bewitching vocals. Instead they collude to create elegantly theatrical backdrops which move across the stage like ghostly scenery with each song/scene change, and no doubt aided by Potter's frictionless production, which leaves every element suspended in its own aura, as though hung by dewy-glistening spiders silk from the rafters. A gorgeous, highly refined set of songs, nothing less. - boomkat

Here Is Where We Used To Sing is, formally speaking, the debut full-length by Fovea Hex, ostensibly leader Clodagh Simonds (vocals, keyboards, harmonium, psaltery, lyre, kalimba) joined by Laura Sheeran (vocals, saw), Cora Venus Lunny (violin, viola), Colin Potter (electronics), and Michael Begg (electronics, keyboards). The album includes ethereal, spellbinding songcraft that melds, with inexplicable ease, ambient-electronic sound design and vocal-based balladry. Rooted in a foundation of voices and keyboards and liberally fleshed out with a wealth of complementary idiosyncratic sounds, Fovea Hex's songs are haunting lamentations and incantations, shimmering wonderlands of magic and mystery. (read the original review:
Though Fovea Hex is hardly what could be called a dominating or ubiquitous presence on the contemporary music scene, the group made such a strong impression with its Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent EP trilogy that its identity as a functional creative force looms larger than it otherwise might. That Here Is Where We Used To Sing is, formally speaking, the group's debut full-length comes therefore as an even greater surprise. Fovea Hex, ostensibly leader Clodagh Simonds (vocals, keyboards, harmonium, psaltery, lyre, kalimba) joined by a core grouping of Laura Sheeran (vocals, saw), Cora Venus Lunny (violin, viola), Colin Potter (electronics), and Michael Begg (electronics, keyboards), has once again managed to draw into its orbit a stellar cast of contributors, including Brian Eno and Julia Kent (of Antony and the Johnsons), and has even managed to supplement the recording proper with a bonus half-hour EP (included with a 400-copy limited edition), Three Beams, featuring long-form renderings by Potter, Begg, and William Basinski. The album includes eleven examples of ethereal, spellbinding songcraft (eight vocal songs and three instrumentals) that meld, with inexplicable ease, ambient-electronic sound design and vocal-based balladry. Rooted in a foundation of voices and keyboards and liberally fleshed out with a wealth of complementary idiosyncratic sounds, Fovea Hex's songs are haunting lamentations and incantations, shimmering wonderlands of magic and mystery.
Essentially a Simonds solo spotlight, “Far From Here” opens the album in ravishing style, with her pure voice arcing over a sombre bed of shimmering chords. The song's portentous mood does nothing to dissuade the listener from sampling more of the album, however, as the effect is seductive in the extreme, and the delicate sound sculpting that Begg and Simonds bring to the setting promises much for the richness of what follows. Sheeran delivers a haunting vocal of her own in “Falling Things (Where Does A Girl Begin?)” with her lamentation deepened by an arrangment that includes a warbling saw, glass, bells, bowed cymbals, and “Clock of the Long Now Bells” courtesy of Eno. There's a crystal clear purity to both Sheeran's and Simonds' voices that sometimes calls the late Trish Keenan to mind, an association that lends Fovea Hex's music an even stronger gravitas. Particularly hypnotic is “A Hymn To Sulphur,” which features an undulating, Sirens-esque choir built from the voices of Simonds and Sheeran drifting over an oceanic ebb-and-flow of strings and guitar, with its collective sway anchored by a drum's distant pounding. Here and elsewhere, Fovea Hex's attention to sound detail and its impact is evident, as one almost misses the subliminal presence of a tremulous, high-pitched piano part that adds to the music's impact. Sumptuous violin and cello contributions lend “Play Another” a spectral character that complements the dreaminess of Simonds' vocal and elegant piano, a move revisited on the dramatic closer “Still Unseen.” Even when the songs are stripped to their core—“Jewelled Eyes” one example, which pairs Simonds' voice and Ellis's cello—they remain transfixing. A trio of instrumental vignettes (“Brisance, My Baby,” “Love For The Uncertain,” “Celandine”) break up the vocal pieces, each one a stirring instrumental setting where the sparse breath of piano is bedazzled with dulcimer, kalimbas, glass, bells, psaltery and crystal.
The EP casts the spotlight on the more ambient-electronic side of the Fovea Hex equation. As haunting an ambient soundscape as any of the vocal pieces on the parent disc, Begg's “Fall Calling” re-shapes the strings into elemental forces of nature, both starry-eyed glistenings of the upper spheres and earth-bound rumblings, while Basinski's “Glaze” just as hauntingly fashions its strings into incessant loops that pull one helplessly into their undertow in the process. Potter's “Cup of Joy” spends its first five minutes in a daze of string-based glory before the music abruptly shifts to a stunning choral episode of dark magic before returning to the strings once again, with the voices now piercing through the string-drenched clouds like agonized spirits desperately reaching out beyond the grave. Needless to say, the album holds up more than well enough on its own, but the EP's ambient settings make the Fovea Hex picture feel more complete. Theirs is an inspirational and ultra-rich universe that's pretty much unlike anything else currently on offer.- textura.org/

Clodagh Simonds likes to take her time • Following an early spell of musical incandescence in the late '60s & early '70s (in her own group, the fascinating prog folk outfit Mellow Candle), the Irish singer was content to hover in the fringes for three & half decades before taking centre stage again in 2005 • But even then, her return was a gradual one; in a new guise, Fovea Hex, Simonds took a further three years to unveil a one-hour cycle of music, titled Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent • But what music it was! the nine tracks—released as 3 EPs: Bloom (2005), Huge (2006) & Allure (2007)—did nothing less than reinvent from the bottom up the notions of what song is & can be • This was no irreverant act of avant-garde ruthlessness, however; Simonds' folk leanings (& they are only leanings; she has repeatedly stated that she neither thinks of herself as a folk singer, nor does she feel part of a tradition)—despite their proximity in an apparently alien context—were loudly & proudly proclaimed seemingly at every moment • It was, in short, an almost incredible blending of ancient & modern ideas, an enterprise made all the more successful & telling by the contributions of such figures as Brian Eno, Colin Potter, Carter Burwell & The Hafler Trio's Andrew M. McKenzie, who also mesmerisingly reworked each EP for an accompanying CD series •
That choice of title, Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent, could not have been chosen more wisely; it encapsulates perfectly the paradox confronting the listener in Fovea Hex's music • On the one hand, as already stated, the folk elements are emphatically foregrounded, & folk music is at its heart communal music, not to be sat back & listened to, thought about & critiqued; on the contrary, it invites our participation, we are compelled to join in, to speak • Yet equally emphatic is a profound sense of ritual—not exactly a religious sense, it's more diffuse & unfocussed than that, but nonetheless a potent, perhaps pagan forcefulness that invokes a rather different kind of response • Rituals are communal acts too, of course, but participation here has more ebb & flow; at times, whether by rubrics or by our inner sense of the numinous, we are compelled to be silent • This unique, magical paradox has returned in dazzling fashion on Fovea Hex's new album, Here Is Where We Used To Sing, released last month •
Opening track "Far From Here" plunges us so immediately back into familiar Fovea Hex territory that, on first listening, i almost gasped out loud at the sheer thrill of it • Simonds' distinctive, vibrato-less voice, begins without hesitation, making it clear that, in what lies ahead, melody reigns supreme; everything else—the endless layers & washes of sound—are at its service • It occupies the same kind of wide, warm, expansive soundscapes as the earlier releases described above, the character of which projects another paradox • Driven by the narrative nature of the lyrics, there's a strong sense of movement & direction; yet these are unmistakably drone-based songs, the whole rooted on an unwavering fundamental • "Play Another" is rather different, at first occupying a dense, intoxicating atmosphere suggestive of Radiohead • It's kept sedate at first, rocking back & forth on twin chords, before the real magic appears in the final minute & a half, the early melodic aspirations taken up by a soaring violin (played by the superb Cora Venus Lunny) • As though inspired by that conclusion, "Falling Things (Where Does A Girl Begin?)" takes place at altitude, drifting in a cloud of bells, piano, bowed cymbals & musical saw • Laura Sheeran, having remained in the periphery on previous Fovea Hex releases, is finally allowed into the spotlight, delivering the main vocals • Her voice is sufficiently distinctive (younger; more breathy but also rather more forceful) while bearing useful similarities to Simonds', ensuring no stylistic jarring • The song is ravishingly beautiful, but it's a rain-streaked beauty, the lyrics evoking a mood that is, in all senses, autumnal • "Every Evening", a collaboration with the wonder that is Andrew Liles, was released as a vinyl single in 2008; this version has been extensively re-worked, & also raised in pitch, a change that benefits the song greatly • The lyrics chart a dangerous path, perilously close to a kind of tweenage preciousness—"every evening we go strolling out of the house & all the way down to the shore / where the open air & the breathing seas & the wheeling night / can unfold us both till we shine like stars once more"—but it's entirely saved by the (once again) remarkable sound design, enfolding Simonds' voice in a gentle, pulsating kind of froth, preserving the delicately romantic epicentre of the song •
Instrumentals have always sat alongside the songs in Fovea Hex's output, & there are three on the album, all rather brief • "Brisance, My Baby" is the first, resurrecting the musical language of "Falling Things" & expanding it downwards into a more vast sonic space—only to end, almost as soon as it's begun • "A Hymn to Sulphur" is rooted on a powerful deep bass throb; Simonds' voice pervades all, in fore-, middle- & background, different vocal strands gliding around each other • The modal lyricism belies the intensity of this 'hymn', which is actually rather unsettling, at times conjuring the mood of late-night ceremonial • The second intrumental, "Love for the Uncertain", follows, a crystalline pseudo-stasis, like an exquisite miniature gem • The shortest of the songs, "Jewelled Eyes", takes a break from such boundless vistas, & evokes the more intimate world of chamber music, focussing on strings • This is mirrored in the vocals, Simonds' voice so close-miced it feels as though she's singing directly into our ears • The intimacy continues, as does the predominance of strings, in "The Diamonds", accompanied by the dry, plucked timbres of lyre & psaltery • However, this is answered in the second half—at the words "Fly like a bird..."—by an abrupt return to the wide warmth from before • "Celandine" is the third & final instrumental, in which struck sounds resonate loudly in the space, given shape by a slow, half-present, barely-moving bass • The album concludes with "Still Unseen", recalling earlier songs: the piano motif is similar to the plucked one in "The Diamonds", there's a chamber-like quality as in "Jewelled Eyes", & the soft rocking back & forth is redolent of "Play Another" • Simple & lullaby-like, the melody just occasionally doesn't flatter Simonds' voice, but the rich glowing string textures are delicious & rather moving • This, combined with the emphasis on home-coming in the lyrics, helps the song to form a perfect close to the album •
Here Is Where We Used To Sing is an outstanding achievement, extending the groundbreaking approach from their earlier output • Having said that, the average track length on Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent was nearly 7 minutes, & some of the songs on this album seem to be crying out—or, at least, left me crying out—to be explored further & for longer • That's particularly true of the three instrumentals, that are almost too incidental for their own good; indeed, the two longest tracks, "Falling Things (Where Does A Girl Begin?)" & "A Hymn To Sulphur" are by far the most striking, & i think that's more than a little in part due to their durations • Also, some may find the way Fovea Hex cling to droning fundamentals in their songs to be an overcautious, expressive hindrance, preventing the songs from really 'taking off' • However, the kind of harmonic 'tethering' they opt for seems in keeping with the songs' poetic preoccupation with memories, recollections & dreams • It enhances their emotional ambiguity; melancholy & joy are freely intermingled, & while Clodagh Simonds doesn't in any way wear her heart on her sleeve, every song literally aches with the intensity of its inner emotions • But these are mere considerations, not concerns, & they in no way detract from what is undeniably a mind-bogglingly beautiful, superbly executed album • 5-against-4.blogspot.com/

Fovea Hex is an act that I have grown to love over the last few months. Like everyone writing for Tympanogram and certainly everyone reading this, I try to stay on top of the “next big thing.” Fovea Hex would certainly qualify for that if not for the fact that the focal point of the act, Clodagh Simonds, has been active since the early 70’s.
Simonds has a tremendous voice that can stretch from being lithe to antagonistic in the same note. I suppose she could be likened to an imaginary female version of Captain Beefheart. She also gets bonus points in my mind for being Irish.
Anyway, her life in music began when she started the band Mellow Candle, which would receive reasonable success-in-hindsight. Later (in the early 70’s), she worked on albums with Thin Lizzy and Mike Oldfield. Basically, she fell out of the biz and went on a long hiatus. In 2005, she returned with the Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent trilogy of Bloom, Huge and Allure, which I completely missed. That said, these EPs were fantastic, and each one attracted a huge cast of supporting players.
So Here Is Where We Used To Sing is Fovea Hex’s first full length. I am assuming that anyone following the act has found this album to be worth the wait. Honestly, this album is so good that I wish I had been following Fovea Hex for years, so I could have my socks blown off by it. This is the type of album that creeps up on you. I listened to pieces of it for a few weeks before I found my place in it, highlighting the power of the grenade effect. Last year, the grenade album was Owen Pallett’s Heartland, which blew up in my eyes in the same way.
The scope of Simonds’ voice and talent is expansive enough to attract some of the most eclectic and talented compatriots. Her cast this time includes Brian Eno, Colin Potter, Michael Begg, Laura Sheeran (who provides lead vocals on a few tracks), Kate Ellis, John Contreras, Cora Venus Lunny, Julia Kent, Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo, and Marco Schiavo. Cellos, keyboards and piano dominate the orchestration, but the atmospheric songs are full of interesting sounds and textures. At all times, though, her voice is the glue.
This is a truly fantastic and under-appreciated record. Deeply haunting and entirely sublime, this a gorgeous and compelling record that should be taken as a whole. It took me too long to get into Fovea Hex, but now that I am down for the get down, I can’t wait to see where she goes next. This is an act on the rise. -


Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent (2010) streaming
[3CD Set feat. the original eps: Bloom, Huge and Allure]

This second EP from Clodagh Simmonds’ experimental voice project opens with some fairly strange background instrumentation. While Simmonds’ voice is always at the centre of proceedings, the drone sounds that open first piece, ‘Huge (The Joy Of Trouble)’ are derived from the warm, bell-like sonorities of glassware. Elsewhere, we find Hugh O’ Neil’s elongated trumpet tones and some synthesizer provided by none other than Brian Eno. The second piece, ‘A Song For Magda’ sees Andrew Mckenzie of The Hafler Trio taking the reigns, making use of a rich sound palate to work with: sustained tones from psalteries and fretless bass mesh and overlap while a choir of female voices drown in the mix. After hearing his recent 6-disc long project conjuring monolithic dronescapes from the voice of Sigur Ros’ Jonssi Birgisson it’s great to hear a Hafler Trio piece that’s as succinct as this, clocking up a tantalising four and a half minutes before evaporating into nothing. It’s beautiful stuff. The disc finishes with the most voluble of the three tracks here - Harmonium, a string arrangement and some field recordings woven together while Simmonds’ vocal harmonies once again take centre stage. Fovea Hex is shaping up to be a platform for some incredible 21st century revisions of how we think about the song as a musical format – a highly recommended purchase. - boomkat











I​:​I​:​XII Hail Hope (2011) streaming

Allure (2007)

 Allure is the third and final installment in Fovea Hex's Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent trilogy, and it closes the captivating series with an impressive balance and symmetry. For this EP, the self-described "ensemble of associates" has undergone further cast changes, making the project's cohesion all the more remarkable. The primary constant, however, remains former Mellow Candle vocalist Clodagh Simonds, whose voice and koan-like songs anchor Fovea Hex's ambient drones with a deceptive simplicity and frequently breath-taking beauty.

The two previous EPs in the Neither Speak series, Bloom and Huge, had featured appearances by such luminaries as Brian Eno, the Hafler Trio's Andrew McKenzie, and film composer Carter Burwell. This time around, Simonds is joined by guitarist Robert Fripp, Nurse With Wound's Colin Potter, an assortment of Dublin-based improvisers, and-- perhaps most tellingly-- musician and wildlife author Geoff Sample who contributes field recordings of Moorland birds and lakewater. As with the earlier EPs, this rotating ensemble ensures a constant evolution of activity and texture within Allure's three pieces, and yet each sound source is incorporated with such elegance that the whole eclectic group can appear to perform with a single, indivisible voice.
A palpable sense of loss and displacement has informed Simonds' songs throughout the Neither Speak recordings, and never more so than on Allure. "I'm like a fish that's breathing sand, so longing" she sings on the album's centerpiece "Long Distance", the stark emotion of her voice mirrored by Fripp's shimmering guitar figures and Michael Begg's piano treatments and "melancholia implants." As with her previous songs, the object of Simonds' longing is never given a specific name or identity, so "Long Distance" and the opening title track might be addressed to a missing lover, or they could be hymns from a disillusioned believer to an absent God.
Throughout Allure, the various members of Fovea Hex continually bolster Simonds' songs with unexpected instrumental flourishes, as with Donal Lunny's exotic bodhrán on "Long Distance" or with the tasteful Celtic strings on "Allure". Intriguingly, Simonds and company have chosen to close out the album, and hence the entire trilogy, with the instrumental "Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent". Counterbalanced with Percy Jones' subaquatic bass and Sample's nature recordings, Simonds concludes this series with a prolonged, enigmatic whisper, one that can seem an alternately soothing and vaguely disquieting finale to Fovea Hex's adventure.
Limited editions of Allure come packaged with the bonus disc An Answer, which features the EP's material re-mixed by Andrew McKenzie into a luminous, hour-length meditation. And now that the Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent series is finished, Fovea Hex also offers the three EPs together in a handsome boxed edition. Given the project's unified vision, this box set seems the best way to experience Fovea Hex, and putting these three EPs on in hypnotic succession can quite quickly become an addictive procedure. And though it might now appear that the group's work is complete, one can certainly hope that Simonds can someday find further alluring ways to put the Fovea Hex associates to use. -  Matthew Murphy


Huge (2006) streaming

Fovea Hex's Huge EP is the latest installment in their Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent series, an ongoing trilogy that has served as a captivating introduction to this self-described "labyrinthine ensemble of associates." As with their recent debut Bloom EP, this second edition has once again united an impressive roster of collaborators-- including Brian Eno, film composer Carter Burwell, and the Hafler Trio's Andrew McKenzie-- around the talents of former Mellow Candle singer-songwriter Clodagh Simonds. And despite Fovea Hex's rotating cast of supporting players, it is evident on Huge's three tracks that the experimental collective is truly starting to get their legs beneath them, as their assembled voices can sound as closely attuned as a single shivered bowstring.
Prior to the late 2005 release of Bloom, Simonds' recording career had been largely dormant for the better part of the past two decades. Since her reemergence, she has gone on to collaborate with acts like Current 93 and Matmos in addition to her work with Fovea Hex. Perhaps as a result of all this sudden activity, her vocals on Huge have taken on an additional glint of confidence, and her cloudless voice now drives these tracks with increasing authority. Her unique, asymmetric songs are written with an obvious self-assurance as well, as Simonds bypasses traditional song structures to instead interlace her gossamer-thin melodic and lyrical strands until they're sturdy enough to withstand nearly any degree of electroacoustic reconstruction.
Bloom was largely assembled and mixed by Andrew McKenzie; this time many of those duties were done by Colin Potter (Current 93, Nurse With Wound), whose deft touch is most evident on the instrumental "A Song For Magda". Woven from assorted fragments of layered voices, psaltery, and Potter's electronic "shifting and sieving," this drone track's striking subaquatic bass gives it a vivid depth of field and provides an atmospheric interlude between the collection's two lyrical meditations, "Huge (The Joy of Trouble)" and "While You're Away"-- both of which seem borne from the same hypnagogic state between sleep and waking.
"Night returns dissolving all/ And leaving me no face at all," sings Simonds on "Huge (The Joy of Trouble)", her tranquil words overshadowed by nameless dread or, as she puts it, "Some sense of a missing thing...the light of ill-ease." This vague sense of anxiety is mirrored in the song's arrangement of Eno's evocative keyboards, Hugh O'Neill's shimmering trumpet, and Simonds' various sound effects listed as "recycled glass and waltz bed." But on finale "While You're Away" Simonds takes a more comforting view of the transition to nightfall. "Between the mystery and the fact arrives the sweetest sliver of the day," she proclaims, her voice joined by the ethereal harmonies of Laura Sheeran and Sarah McQuaid. Before its closing, the piece is turned over to Cora Venus Lunny's delicate string arrangement and Burwell's ghostly piano, while field recordings of songbirds call out across the ever-dimming meadows.
For Simonds and the far-flung members of Fovea Hex, Huge is another impressive achievement, particularly when considered as a continuation of the music on Bloom. With a running time of just under 20 minutes, however, it's hard to know exactly why the group have chosen to release this cohesive, unified work in such piecemeal fashion. Perhaps it is simply that their collective enthusiasm for this project is such that they wish to deliver their freshly created music to their listeners as quickly as possible no matter the portion size, and if this is the case one can hardly blame them for their zeal. - Matthew Murphy


Cockles and Mussels (Molly Malone) by Matmos/Clodagh Simonds (Fovea Hex) (2006) streaming

A lesser known fact about Alan Turing is that his favorite song was Molly Malone, (his Mother was Irish, after all), which, so the story goes, he insisted on rendering on the violin to the police who came to arrest him on charges of gross indecency, before agreeing to make his statement to them.
This recording by Matmos of Clodagh Simonds (of Fovea Hex) singing Molly Malone, in itself a sonic marvel of intelligent artifice, was first featured on their FOR ALAN TURING ep, a work commissioned in 2006 by The Mathematical Sciences Research Institute at Berkely CA on the opening of their new Mathematics Hall

FOVEA HEX - Bloom image
Bloom (2005) streaming

Now this is a little bit special isn't it - what do you get if you take Brian Eno, Roger Eno, Andrew McKenzie (Hafler Trio), Carter Burwell (Fargo OST, Being John Malkovich OST) and have them collaborate with a trio of insanely talented chanteuses? Fovea Hex gives us the answer to this and provides us with what Brian Eno has described as "Some of the most extraordinary songs I've heard in years". As I flicked through 'Bloom' to review initially I wasn't sure what to make of it - fragmented vocals and very subtley affecting ambience. Returning to it and playing it from beginning to end was when I had my revelation; this record is as gorgeous as any of Burwell's stunning soundtrack work, as sentimental and romantic as Eno's very best and polished off expertly by the experimental flourishes of avant garde mad-scientist McKenzie. This deluxe package (part one of an ongoing series) comes in a lovely embossed gatefold style package and just feels like something that little bit exclusive (isn't that what we're all after?). If you enjoyed recent releases this year by Amina, Midaircondo and even Bjork's more experimental moments then check this without delay. - boomkat

In the early 1970s, Irish singer/songwriter Clodagh Simonds was a founding member of the progressive-folk cult favorites Mellow Candle, and later went on to perform with Thin Lizzy and Mike Oldham. As with many of her folk-rock contemporaries, Simonds has been long absent from the recording scene but has seen a recent surge of interest in her earlier work, as exemplified by Stephen Malkmus' 2003 cover of Mellow Candle's "Poet & the Witch".

Intriguing though it's been, however, there's nothing in Simonds' past history that could've adequately foretold the remarkable appearance of her new project, Fovea Hex. Featuring contributions from such heavyweights as Brian and Roger Eno, the Hafler Trio's Andrew McKenzie, and film composer Carter Burwell, Fovea Hex represents a startling confluence of talents and styles, and the group's first release is uniquely possessed of an icy, sapphire-like radiance. This three-song EP is the first installment of a proposed trilogy entitled Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent and brief though it is, the record exhibits a sterling assortment of ambient, high-density drones, all of which are subtly bound by Simonds' songcraft and crystalline, folk-derived vocals.
Assembled and mixed by McKenzie via a ghostly construction of harmonium, viola, zither, and "disappeared piano," the deceptively active arrangements achieve a frosty mood somewhere relative to Nico's The Marble Index, Current 93's apocalyptic folk-drones, and the unflinching winterscapes of Burwell's Fargo soundtrack. But despite Fovea Hex's assembled instrumental firepower, Simonds unquestionably emerges as the central figure on these performances-- particularly on the near-acappella opening track "Don't These Windows Open". Conducted by McKenzie's invisible hand, here Simonds' multi-tracked chorale is as gracefully split and clarified as sunlight mirrored off the polar icecaps.
Yet though all appears tranquil on the surface, on Bloom there are unseen forces at constant work to undercut Simonds' lyrics with ripples of doubt and anxiety. "Cry for your father/ Don't these windows open?/ How could he hear us?" she fervently sings on this first track, sounding determined not to lose her cool in a crisis. Later on, amid the gorgeous dunes of "We Sleep You Bloom", she again conjures indistinct external spirits, "Way down beneath the battlefield/ Down there beside the fire...as we sleep you bloom," leaving ambiguous the nature of these unnamed forces that "bloom in a petrol rainbow dark." And throughout these performances, Simonds tempers her passions with an elegant measure of stoic restraint, aided by the exceptional vocal harmonies of Brian Eno, Laura Sheeran, and Lydia Sasse.
So potent, in fact, are Fovea Hex's joint creations that the album's brevity becomes its primary drawback. Simonds has a voice that one could happily drown in for hours, and obviously guys like McKenzie, Burwell, and the Enos would benefit from further opportunity to stretch their collaborative limits. So it's good news to learn that the next chapter in the Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent series is due later this spring, and a minor impatience to anticipate the day when the entire work is available to be absorbed as a whole. - Matthew Murphy

Andrew Liles and Fovea Hex, Gone Every Evening (2008) streaming

As well as compositional, vocal, and ghost-music input from Clodagh Simonds, you will also find, on this occasion, Laura Sheeran (tortured and semi-hysterical vocals) and Michael Begg (inscrutable audibles), as well as the ineffable and much-loved Fabrizio Palumbo Modonese, whose unsung intonations provide equal portions of chill and warmth. Strangely satisfying all round.
"Following three excellent mini CDs produced with the top layer of sonic experimentalism, Clodagh Simonds teams with here Micheal Begg, Fabrizio Palumbo and Laura Sheeran, all under the guidance of Andrew Liles (rapidly climbing up to the top layer) to record two lovely tracks. 'Gone' has piano at the heart of the piece and Simonds heavenly vocals solo with beautiful ambient like electronics humming sparsely about. 'Every Evening' has a strange narrative by Palumbo and multi-layered singing by Sheeran and Simonds and has a fairy tale like atmosphere, but with an unsettling undercurrent in the piece. This is beautiful too but much more spooky. Way too short on this format, one could only want some more after this. Fascinating, beautiful, small treasure." (FdW, vitalweekly.net)

Fovea Hex is the project of Clodagh Simonds, who in the 60s played with the folk band Mellow Candle, and who later sang for Mike Oldfield. She is supported on the "Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent" trilogy by Andrew MacKenzie, Colin Potter, Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, to name just a few. The songs, centred around Clodagh Simonds' voice, are an individual and very original mixture of folk and ambient — although this fails to describe them adequately. The nine songs evoke feelings like longing, security and loss and the listeners find themselves on an emotional roller-coaster. This is some of the most inspired music that has been released in the last months.
Would you say that even though there were long gaps between your work with Mellow Candle and Fovea Hex there is some kind of continuity; that in one way or another what you do has to do with folk music?
I’ve never thought of myself as a folk singer, though I do like some folk music. I think it’s the way I sing which makes people think it’s folk. I’ve always liked singing plainly, and I’ve never liked very polished, or stylised vocals. Perhaps because of that, what I do doesn’t sound particularly contemporary. Mellow Candle was a very long time ago – 35 years – and at various points during that time I’ve written theatre music, liturgical music, songs for children, piano pieces, and cello pieces, as well as continuing to write songs. I suppose there’s an element of continuity, seeing as how, okay, I wrote some of the Mellow Candle songs, and I also wrote these other things – but I think you’d be hard pressed to describe it all as folk.
When did you first conceive the idea of Fovea Hex and was it always clear that the first releases would be a trilogy?
Originally, Fovea Hex was just a name I liked. I thought of it maybe a year before the project started. I wasn’t sure how I would use it — perhaps it would be the name of a piece, or the name of an album – I just kept it, not knowing what it might attach itself to. When this particular project began, and I felt that the name should belong to it, I never thought to myself Specifically „oh I think I’ll do this kind of song, and use these kinds of sounds behind, and I’ll see if I can work with this person, and that person....“ I wasn’t very certain where it would go when we first began – the only things that were clear to me were where I DIDN’T want it to go. It evolved a momentum of its own. To answer the second part of your question – yes, once it began, it was always going to be a trilogy.
Was it important to have a kind of similarity, a kind of symmetry concerning the “Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent”-trilogy (with regard to the artwork and the number of songs on each CD)?
I think the nature of a trilogy is that the three parts do correspond – so, yes.
On the trilogy you were joined by artists like Colin Potter, Brian Eno, Roger Doyle, Andrew McKenzie (amongst others). Why was it important for you to have these people around?
Well, as I say, it’s not like I thought it all out beforehand, and decided what was important and what wasn’t, and decided who I’d work with. I didn’t have a game plan, and there wasn’t a „concept“ – that’s not the way I work. It started out because I read an interview with Andrew in which he said he was very ill and desperately in need of any kind of paid work to help him with his medical costs. I was in the middle of recording something else, in fact. and originally I suggested he just contribute to that, and I would pay him a session fee. I’d never heard of him, and I’d never heard his work – it just sounded as if he was a in a bad predicament, and he was literally begging for help, and I was trying to find a way to help him a bit. But when he sent me some examples of his work, I was very impressed! So it evolved from that – he liked my songs a lot too, and we decided to do three eps. Colin and Roger both became involved when Andrew suggested I should continue with someone else, right after we’d finished the first ep. We’d had serious problems with incompatibility between his computers and mine, and it proved impossible to work in the way that we had originally decided. Plus he was really very ill, often disappearing off the radar for days on end. When he suggested I find someone else, I was at a bit of a loss – but David Tibet (who I’d got to know in the course of worrying about Andrew’s disappearances!) and Jochen Schwarz both suggested Colin Potter, and as soon as I started working with him, I felt that he was the right person with whom to complete the project. Roger Doyle and I had crossed paths many years ago in the Dublin music scene, though we had lost touch, but he was very happy to help out, and in fact Die Stadt is releasing one of his recent works very soon, so it was a mutually beneficial encounter! The way the project evolved, it ended up including a really mixed bunch of people, most of whom are friends of relatively long standing. I’m hugely grateful to all of them – each one makes a unique contribution, and there’s an element of unpredictability when you invite other people to contribute which I think adds something really special. The trilogy as a whole is far richer and more varied than anything I could have come up with just working alone.
This question is linked to the last one. Is Fovea Hex always you with others and are recordings solely done by yourself a kind of different entity (like the song “The Glacial Lake” on the “Not Alone”-compilation that’s been released under your own name)?
For that track, which is a song I wrote about 14 years ago, I did decide to just go under my own name, but I may not always do that – I may in future also release solo recordings under the name of Fovea Hex – I’m not certain yet. Right now, the backbone of Fovea Hex is me, Laura Sheeran, Cora Venus Lunny, Michael Begg, and Colin Potter – but it’s quite a flexible backbone! And I like the idea of continuing to work with various guests......
What is the role of the CDs with the tracks by Andrew McKenzie that accompany some of the editions? Would you say that on the “proper” CDs your focus is on song whereas the mixes by Andrew McKenzie concentrate more on the aspect of sound?
Apart from providing him with the basic material sonically, as the basis for his manipulations, I had nothing at all to do with the bonus cds – Andrew had carte blanche. He normally works at his own speed, in his own time, his own style, according to his own wishes, and the bonus cds were partly to provide him with the freedom to do whatever he wanted with the material, rather than have to collaborate, as on the actual ep – they were for him to work in his usual way, and to make his own commentary.
Whereas very often musicians consider lyrics just as something secondary one has the impression that for you words are of equal importance. Do you consider your lyrics to be some kind of poetry?
In most cases, the music has emerged before the words, so it’s not the same as, for example, setting a poem to music, where you must make the music fit the words. With me, usually it’s the other way round – the shape of the phrase is already there in the music, so the words have to fit that shape. But it does vary – sometimes a line of words comes along and I know it’s the right line, and I might change the music a bit to accommodate it. But in most cases, the music is first. In one way, you have more freedom if you’re writing a poem which is to be read or spoken – you don’t have to think quite so much about your breathing, you don’t have to consider which vowels are going to work or not according to where they’re pitched – you can just choose whatever you like the sound of. If you’re writing words that are to be sung, you’re a lot less free. I did start writing poetry at about 7 or 8 — before I started writing music — and it runs in the family, though I only discovered that about 10 years ago. I discovered that my paternal Grandmother was directly descended from the O’Dalaighs, who were poets for several generations, a long time ago. My Father had a few poems published, and my 16 yr old niece Molly has been writing poems for a couple of years now, quite spontaneously. So it’s in the blood. I think I’ve always taken a lot of care over lyrics, because words have such power, and it’s such a shame to be lazy or careless with them. If people are kind enough to listen, then you owe it to them to take care of what’s going in to their ears.
When you talk about influences you mention W. B. Yeats and Samuel Beckett. To what extent was it important for you that these two artists were Irishmen?
None at all. There are plenty of other Irish writers and poets who don’t particularly touch me. At the same time, I love Rumi, and I’m not Turkish.......I love Georgian music and I’m not Georgian. Who knows why some things resonate and others don’t?
You mentioned that you like the idea to have a kind of mutability when playing live. At the Donaufestival you had to make do without some of your technical devices (and were nevertheless very successful). What can you tell us about your performance in France for the Cartier Foundation?
The main thing is that it was out of doors – they have a space behind the Foundation which is like a little amphitheatre. There were two major unforeseens – for one, we had miscalculated the light, so we weren’t able to use the lovely back projection with Christina Vantzou (of the Dead Texan) had prepared for us – and there was a lot of wind, which added all sorts of unexpected sounds blowing in and out of the sounding holes on the cello, puffing into the microphones – but during the last song, a new piece which has a repeating line that goes „even the wind in the trees sings for everyone“, it was fantastic – it was as if the wind was doing the backing vocals for us! It really did seem to get much louder during that song – we all noticed it, this surge! A few people in the audience noticed it too. And while we were singing „While You’re Away“ which features birds in the middle, you could hear real birds singing when it went quiet, and we liked that too! The gig went very well indeed – I think 75% of the audience bought one or all of the cds afterwards – there was only one person selling them, and he was swamped. We were watching from the penthouse of the building (which they use as a dressing room, when they’re having performances). It was a strange sight and a strange feeling to see how many people were waiting to buy a cd. We didn’t get to meet David Lynch himself, as he had to attend a meditation conference in the US the following day, and he’d already left. I think what he’s doing in trying to get meditation on to the school curriculum in the USA is very admirable, so that was my consolation!
Would you say that a similarity between your work and that of David Lynch is that both of you seem to offer the viewer/listener some kind of space to let the imagination dwell, that you do not give simple/simply answers?
I was very interested to read, in his book „Catching the Big Fish“ that in fact we work in a very similar way. He begins from some kind of fragmented image, or images, which present themselves to him — not from a concept or blueprint which he has engendered and completed ahead of time, in his own mind. At the beginning, he has no idea what the end will be like, he’s working in the dark, and the work takes on a life of its own. I was fascinated to read that, because I always felt he worked in a very precise way, very much more calculated than that. But no – it’s somewhat haphazard, uncertain, as if you are serving the images, following them, rather than trying to pin them to a board in the shape you want. Like me, he feels that, a lot of the time, you can trust your subconscious to provide something far more vibrant and rich than you can ever reach with your so-called „conscious“ aim to represent something specific. If you draw only on what you already know, what you have already learned and understood, (or what you think you have!) it seems to me that a certain kind of dryness pervades the work – you’re taking things from the same old cupboards, where you keep all your ideas and concepts. Essentially, your ingredients are stale. To work in another way than that, perhaps you have to sacrifice some clarity, some tidy endings, some neat conclusions – and the whiff of danger is always present, because you really have no idea what might happen next — but the flavour is so much stronger! It’s an exercise in trust, really.
You mentioned in an interview that nowadays payment doesn’t seem to play such an important role any longer (because of (illegal) downloading etc.). Is the way the trilogy has been packaged a kind of reaction towards the often faceless mp3-files?
Yes. For younger people I guess it’s much easier to absorb, but for me, I find it quite hard to understand how someone can be content with the sound quality of mp3, and it saddens me very much to know that there is now a whole generation of people who have no idea that there’s any alternative, or how there might be a different quality to their listening. The absence of artwork is a loss to them, also, I think – I myself feel distinctly deprived if I don’t have a cover, or a case, or a booklet. But perhaps I’m a bit of a luddite! The thing that’s really hard for me to understand is how people can be so glib about illegal downloading. The irony is these people will think of themselves as „music lovers“. Perhaps they think that it takes five minutes to write a song, another hour or so to record, so it’s easy enough to just keep knocking out the music in your „free time“ while you support yourself working a 45 hour week in the supermarket so that you can afford to upgrade your laptop every now and again. The fact that „music lovers“ are so able to just help themselves without paying anything, and without any sense of guilt, demonstrates to me exactly the same massive failure of imagination which pervades so much of our culture generally. An inability – or perhaps worse, a refusal — to see the bigger picture. Quite literally, they have „no idea“. But the question of payment is also far bigger than this. This illegal downloading question is just one tiny example of a very big problem which you can see in many other ways. Payment and sacrifice are seen as chores to be avoided at all costs, instead of necessary gestures to maintain balance. Gratification and indulgence cannot be sustained indefinitely without these corresponding gestures, as we are beginning to see, and I believe we will continue to see, more and more.
How did you get into touch with Jochen Schwarz and what was it that made you choose Die Stadt?
I got in touch with Jochen through Andrew Mckenzie, who recommended him very highly. He’s wonderful, and I hope very much that we will be continuing to work together!
Brian Eno said about your music that it’s "some of the most extraordinary songs I?ve heard in years". How did you feel when getting this praise from the "godfather of ambient"?
Coming from him, that really did count as high praise! He’s been an incredible source of help and encouragement for years – I often think he’s more confident in me than I am, myself!
One has the impression that there aren’t so many women that create music within the realm beyond mainstream music (be it more experimental music, soundscapes etc.). One gets a similar impression when going to concerts or talking to people who run a mailorder (women seem to be a minority as listeners as well). Have you got any explanation for that phenomenon?
I don’t really know enough about the contemporary scene to comment with much insight. All I can think of is that generally speaking (and of course there are exceptions!) women aren’t so easily seduced or fascinated by gadgets and technology as men are – it’s like a language which just doesn’t really appeal to us quite as much. So there aren’t all that many working in electronica. But I never find it remarkable or strange in any way that men and women aren’t the same, and don’t share all the same tastes and inclinations. Why would they?
You’ve talked about a couple of new songs “incubating”. Will they go in a similar direction as the “Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent”-trilogy?
I don’t know yet. When the process starts, and ideas begin moving, it seems to take on a life of its own.......generally I feel it’s more of a balancing act than an exercise in control. I feel it’s so important to remain sensitive to changes as they occur, sensitive to the collisions between your ideas, and what happens when they meet „reality“ — and to keep adjusting the picture, rather than adhere rigidly to a preconceived plan, trying to resist these inevitable collisions. Movement is movement — you have to maintain a strong sense of balance, so that you can tell the difference between relatively slight deviation and complete derailment – and your sense of purpose and intention, overall, must be strong enough to survive a certain amount of deviation. To keep protecting yourself from the unexpected is not just futile – it’s a massive waste of energy, and in many ways, a kind of death, a refusal of life. It’s a lot more exciting to agree to keep moving, rather than to insist on forcing everything into some shape or other you decided on, in the abstract, before the movement began. I remember a funny conversation I had years ago with Brian Eno – we were talking about when you mis-hear lyrics. He had been listening to some old recording of a gospel song, and the refrain was „Surrender to the Will“, sung repeatedly, with great animation and much handclapping. But he had heard it as „Surrender to the Wheel“ – we both really loved that! In one way, you could say both phrases are saying the same thing – but we agreed that the second one, the imagined one, is actually far more eloquent.......(I wonder if that will translate into German??!!) -

15 Questions to Clodagh Simonds/Fovea Hex

flag  Tobias
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Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hallo - I'm fine, I'm at home in Dublin,  the sun is shining, the birds are singing, the sage is blooming and smells beautiful......

What's on your schedule right now?
I'm preparing for the second ever Fovea Hex gig, which is in Paris on May 24 - we've been invited by David Lynch to perform at the Cartier Foundation, who are running a major exhibition of his work. Apart from that - on my "to do" list: a remix of a beautiful song by Pantaleimon called "Under The Water", and then getting into some nice nonsense or other with Andrew Liles - plus there are 7 or 8 new songs incubating; and I also want to review 5 or 6 sketches I have for piano pieces; and there's some material of Laura Sheeran's which we want to start working on for her first album. And we're in the process of setting up a Janet Records online shop. Never a dull moment.....

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist?
The most enduring ones  (which wouldn't all necessarily be musical) - in roughly chronological order - would be: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayaam, which my Father used to read to me as a bedtime story - I knew most of it off by heart by the time I was 6 or 7; Struwwelpeter; Phil Spector (Da Doo Ron Ron was the first pop song that I really loved); Gregorian plainchant; Bach; Hieronymous Bosch; the Beatles;  the Incredible String Band; Planxty; W.B. Yeats, who I didn't discover properly until I was about 19.  Ligeti - I remember stumbling by chance on a documentary about him and being stunned by not only his music, but also the things he was saying about listening and hearing, and just thinking to myself "Of course!! of course!" Sean nos. Brian Eno, perhaps especially "Another Green World", "Evening Star"(with Fripp), and "On Land".  And his and Bowie's "Low". Nico. Rumi. Georgian music - the first time I heard it, it literally made my spine tingle, and it still does. If I won the lottery, I'd have a pied a terre in Tbilisi! David Hykes' Harmonic Choir; Rothko; Cocteau Twins; Tarkovsky; Arvo Part; Hafiz; early Irish poetry; Beckett (I was a bit of a late starter on him....); Bjork - as with Nico, her originality and bravery acted like a huge reassurance. For the sake of brevity, I've left out a lot of people (and I do mean: a lot) whose work I really do value and admire - but I think these are the ones who have rung the loudest and most enduring bells for me so far, "as an artist". These are the ones I never grew out of. There may be more to come, but we just haven't crossed paths yet.....

Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a movement?
Not really.   I don't feel quite at home in any tradition or movement that I can think of. There's always something that means I don't quite fit. I did find out about 10 years ago that my paternal Grandmother, Molly Daly, was directly descended from a long line of old poets, the O'Dalaighs, which perhaps explains a hereditary gift of the gab!

What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
Yes and no. I think there's a crisis that goes way beyond just the music scene. But it's reflected there pretty accurately, in various ways. One of the more obvious ways is that payment is not so widely seen as a necessity. The reality that that there's a price for everything. And that you get what you pay for. It has to do with values. If you think - turn back the clock 150 years - unless you were in the presence of a musician, or musicians, you could have no music. The only option was live music. To hear music was a huge treat, a real special occasion. The musicians had to have learned how to play - they paid in blood sweat and tears. Perhaps you might have had to travel miles to hear them. Now that payment is not necessary at all - you just need to buy the cd, or buy the software, and if you're clever enough, you don't even have to pay for that. And the results, perhaps, are telling. But any crisis is good, because it precipitates a backlash. I think that's already evident - there's a good ferment brewing. It's all changing shape.

What does the term „new“ mean to you in connection with music?

I mistrust the quest for novelty for its own sake. To keep moving  is vital - but there's more than one direction to move in - it doesn't have to be horizontal. I believe you can find something really fresh by just going deeper in, or by magnifying - shifting levels, instead of tweaking away at the surface details, or tinkering around with new toys, tempting though that is. Intensifying the way you work. YOU - not your tools. I would question the idea that to arrive at something new and original, you must necessarily be radical, and extreme, and assiduously avoid anything that's ever been done before. That's a pretty klunky way to go about it.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
I've been doing a lot of exploring the past few years, because I wanted to go more deeply into sound, whilst continuing to explore song as a form. An ongoing experiment! One of the main things I've learned is that for me, extremes aren't a very fertile place to work. I've seen several times now that if you're working on a song that seems to call for an unusual setting, so you're trying this, and that, investigating less obvious approaches, you come sooner or later to a fine line beyond which everything starts to sound horribly contrived and awkward,  the form collapses, and you're left with something that sounds like a first year art student let loose in a recording studio. It's something to do with the fact that they're songs, not sound collages or assemblages of deconstructed voice. The fragility of the process of getting a song right makes it really exciting. You reach the stage where the sounds are really engaging and rich, they're the right sounds for the piece; the shape is just  right to contain them - it all begins to form a fabric that meshes and binds with the voices and the words - and it's still a song, even though you've pushed it out quite far. And then you make one more adjustment, shift one element, or add one more thing, and suddenly you've gone too far - the cohesion is gone, it bursts, and it's just a misshapen sonic blob. My first tentative experiments were some years ago with Russell Mills (having sung "Golden Hair" on his "Pearl & Umbra" album). But I still feel like a beginner. I'm continuously learning so much about what you can and can't do with this hugely expanded palette of sound which we can now access and play with, and combining it with the form of song - and both Andrew Mckenzie and Colin Potter, who have had to bear with me floundering and crashing around as I started to find my feet during the course of the Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent project, have been amazingly patient, and I feel very lucky to have been able to work with them.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
They're very interwoven. I sit down at the piano perhaps three or four times a day, and I always spend some of that time improvising. If something starts to happen which has a strong flavour or character to it, I'll either write it down, or put it on the iPod. Periodically, I'll listen to all the little fragments of improvisation, and sometimes, I can hear that there may be one particular thing gradually taking shape, perhaps three different phrases, but they clearly belong together, even though I may have played them days or weeks apart, and not consciously remembered them, let alone connected them. Then there are various processes of distillation, and further improvisations based on the original ones, and a song starts to take shape.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
I've never regarded myself as much of a performer, more a writer. But last year I did two solo performances supporting Current 93, first in Ravenna - my first performance for many years - and then in Moscow. I kept it very straightforward and simple, I just did four or five songs on grand piano, a couple of them with cello, viola, violin, and harp, but extremely simple parts. In a way I wanted to see how it would be - would I die of a heart attack?!! Or squawk like a hen??!! I've been telling myself for so long that I'm not a performer! I wanted to see if I'd sink or swim. The first time, in Ravenna, I felt semi-hysterical with nerves all day..... right up until the moment I was standing in the wings waiting to go on. And then, literally seconds before I went on, I suddenly started to feel that I really wanted to go out and sing for everyone. It was very unexpected. I felt completely calm, as if a switch had been thrown. I think the atmosphere helped - that particular kind of audience. David Tibet is a unique performer - he is very much himself, and an extraordinarily sincere person - and I think something really powerful comes across because of that. It isn't style or technique or vocal polish you're hearing, it's David's voice - a human voice. It's transparent, and something elemental shines through it, so he's a very charismatic performer. And his audience aren't sitting there waiting for dazzling technique and a load of gloss - they're not really looking at the surface - as a performer, I think you can sense that, and it's very welcoming. As regards "what constitutes a good live performance" - I think you can't formulate that too exactly - it's a kind of magic, isn't it? The space itself is important - if you're seriously challenged acoustically, or nobody can see, that will hamper everything of course. But the magic doesn't seem to be confined by the style or presentation - I've seen very simple, unpolished performances that have had it, and extremely elaborate, lavish ones that didn't.    (But also vice versa!). Apart from that, I think it  has something to do with presence - the degree of presence of the performer or performers, the quality of attention from the audience - those two things are reciprocal, and if they're balanced at the right point, (which is rare, and when it does happen, is a mutual achievment) then the present can suddenly become very vivid, and both the performers and the listeners sense it, and the whole experience then becomes more heightened, vibrant, charged.... everyone participates in a kind of luminous present for a while. The most reliable killer of that magic seems to me to be when the performer is on automatic pilot -  they know what they're doing so well that they might as well be doing it in their sleep. The Seasoned Pro. You can sense when it's basically an exercise in repetition, and you just want to leave after the first five minutes. At least, I do. As regards "my approach" to live performance, nothing is too fixed yet. Fovea Hex performed for the first time at the Donau Festival in April this year, supporting Larsen and Nurse With Wound. Rehearsal time was very limited and there were various last-minute and mildly catastrophic technical restrictions we just had to work around - like having to deal with the reality that 95% of the laptop element wasn't happening - but there was enough flexibility in the material and the players for it to work anyway, pretty much semi-acoustically, and it was really encouraging to see that. I like the idea of keeping that kind of mutability, of not always having the same people, the same arrangements, and so on - have the songs so that they can come to life under various sets of conditions, not just one. For the Cartier Foundation gig, we'll have Michael Begg of Human Greed with us, joining Colin Potter in generating the more electronic ingredients, together with violin/viola, (Cora Venus Lunny) cello (Kate Ellis), keyboards and voices (Laura Sheeran and myself). Christina Vantzou (of The Dead Texan) and I have been discussing various back projection ideas, and she's providing us with something simple - we may go further down that road. Recently I've had quite a rush of ideas for visuals - just something for the eyes while the songs unfold. But my experience in that world is zero - I'm just about to start learning about it - and it's quite possible that some of the things I'd like to try aren't going to be feasible...... but there's only one way to find out!

A lot of people feel that some of the radical experiments of modern compositions can no longer be qualified as “music”. Would you draw a border – and if so, where?
Seems to me  everyone would draw that line (or rather, very wide and wobbly border) in a different place, mostly I guess because what's good for the goose is... another man's ceiling, as we all know. My hoover and my fridge both sing different little harmonic-packed songs. But what do I achieve exactly by trying to "decide" whether they qualify as music or not? More interesting to see that I don't always hear it! Sometimes I wonder if perhaps having a huge mental concept doesn't interfere somewhat with the muse, or take up a space which the muse could otherwise occupy. I love to listen to birdsong, for example. I don't think there's a big concept going on in a birds brain. But I have no doubt the muse is on their side, and also on mine, when I simply listen.

Are “serious” and “popular” really two different types of music or just empty words without a meaning?
There are different kinds of music, yes, but I think those two particular words make a false distinction. It bothers me when people use the word "popular" in a pejorative sense, meaning that anything that's appreciated by a large number of people must ipso facto be less valuable or interesting a piece of work than something which only a handful of connoisseurs can get into. A 5-course gourmet meal that's taken two days to prepare, washed down with three different superb wines, and served by a pair of French penguins can be a fantastic experience. But if you insist on eating like that every day, always sneering at the riff-raff, and demanding complicated sauces and hand-churned butter from Normandy with everything, you'll soon be fat and slow and have a small number of very heavy bloated friends with bad livers who will break your chairs. On the other hand, if you live on petrol station snacks and Twix alone, you'll be spotty, wired, always hungry, and possibly unable to sit down at all. I personally think a balanced diet is best, including a fair amount from cultures and times other than the one you were raised in - I think that's really good for your musical digestion. Generally, I think agility is a very underrated thing - some people seem to actually pride themselves on being stuck in one place. I think it's a really good idea, if you can find the time, to periodically listen to something which is way outside of your norm, and really listen. Keep your ears on their toes......

Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or  to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
I think everybody - whether they're an artist, a farmer, or a telephone engineer - has a duty to keep reminding themselves that they're part of a bigger picture. Play your part the best you can, according to your understanding of it, but don't lose sight of the reality that you're a participant, and it's never all about you. It's easier for a farmer or a telephone engineer, but a lot of artists - perhaps because they work in solitude more - seem to have a predisposition towards narcissism and self-importance. And if they're also the kind who really get off on adulation and applause, they can end up in a very weird place indeed. If you're an artist, and you also have children, and they're not your absolute no. 1 priority, I'd say you've got it pretty bad. You might have been born with the kind of psyche or imagination that needs to "produce" rather than the kind that's more disposed to stimulation by the products of others  - but you're still just a part of the fabric. We're all in it together, and I think you're on dodgy ground if you start to feel  separate in any significant way.

True or false: People need to be educated about music, before they can
really appreciate it.

You can appreciate music strongly on an instinctive and intuitive level and be very satisfied. But if you also deepen your understanding, you'll be richly rewarded on another level.

Imagine a situation in which there’d be no such thing as copyright and everybody were free to use musical material as a basis for their own compositions – would that be an improvement to the current situation?

A few brilliant and original people would be invisible and starve. A lot of smart chancers would swagger around delivering plagiarized gloop, which would all sound strangely similar. Various dead people would not be thanked and their work would not be recognized. So I guess nothing would really change...

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?

If it was up to me, it would be more like a huge circus, and it would have to be in a timewarp. Many of the stars would have to rise from the dead, because a lot of the people I like best are dead. Since we're in a timewarp, I could make a cameo appearance as a 7 year old bareback rider in a sparkly leotard (my first ambition!). Actually I can't think about this any more - I've already thought of about 40 people and I don't want to drop any of them - and I just keep thinking of more. There would have to be at least seven different tents, with completely different atmospheres, (one would be a cinema), various animals, a large river, a lot of exotic snacks and drinks, a cathedral, some very expensive rugs, free accommodation and an abundance of clean bathrooms of easy access, and it would go on for several weeks. I would need a great deal of money and a very great deal of help. I'm pretty sure the festival organisers would end up asking someone else.

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?

No. I don't have those Magnum Opus dreams either - I pretty much take one thing at a time. I never quite know what I'm doing until it's done and finished. I think I would get a very strange and contrived result if I tried to aim for something very specific each time. For others that can work well - but it's never worked for me. I work better in a back to front kind of way, in the dark - a bit like developing someone else's photographs, you start out with a glimmer and some blurred outlines, you don't quite know what's there, and you just have to be patient and not agitate things too much or turn the light on too soon. Be quiet, and see what emerges. - www.tokafi.com/

with Mellow Candle:
Swaddling Songs (Deram) 1972

Fovea Hex at MySpace
Janet Records
Die Stadt Records

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