CTM partner Glissando magazine caught up with Mark Fell ahead of his CTM.13 performances under both his own name as well as Sensate Focus
Piotr Tkacz (Glissando): Listening to your music, but also reading the notes accompanying the records and looking at your website, I have a feeling that for you humour belongs in music. Not in the sense that you are telling jokes, but there is a tongue in cheek from time to time. Am I right about this? If yes, is that something you do consciously, is that an important part of your artistic practice?
MF: I guess it's part of my personality. Like basically I'm always having a laugh. Maybe it's part of the culture I grew up in, where most social interactions revolve around people taking the piss out of one another. Maybe there is an irony to the work I do, but for me it's also totally serious.
PT: I certainly see it as serious, that's why it's so interesting - that it can contain both humor and seriousness. I get the sense of irony or even provocation from the following notes: "The project was written in transit during a house and studio move, and exclusively produced using the internal speakers on a MacBook Pro. Due to time constraints, the mastering session with Lupo at Dubplates and Mastering was unattended." It stands against common expectations about artists' professionalism and tendency toward high fidelity.
MF: Yeh I liked the idea to work against that notion of perfection. But ultimately I stated it because it was true. And mostly these days I listen to music off my computer so it seemed to make sense to make it that way. I did listen on headphones a few times however just to check the bass.
PT: Is it also something against this notion that you often come back to the previous pieces and rework them? In the sense that the piece is never finalized, is always somehow open and never finished "for good"?
MF: Yeh I like to continually rework materials. It is because nothing is never fully exhausted. There are always other versions and ideas that could be made, new combinations of sounds, patterns and so on. But I think probably that’s the way most artists work.
PT: I remember reading that you had plenty of versions of tracks for "Multistability", I realize it's not easy to tell exactly but if you could try to describe what are your criteria, when you are satisfied with the piece of music enough that you decide it's ready - at least for this moment?
MF: There's a kind of curve to it. At first when you work the track gets better as it takes shape. Then at some point the more work you do simply makes the track worse. But it’s tempting to keep working all the time. So as soon as the track seems almost ok, it’s best to stop and move on.
PT: So how you deal with the question of albums' consistency? Some of your records sound really coherent and focused while others seem more varied and diverse.
MF: I choose different types of sounds and approaches to sound construction for each album. You might describe the result of this as having more or less coherence or focus. I think most of my work could be described as sonically focused. Generally speaking I’m after a specific kind of sound.
PT: Could you describe what kind of sound it is?
MF: The sound depends on the project I am working on. Typically people describe the sounds I use as clean, sharp, glassy, metallic.
PT: So, would you also use those adjectives to describe your music or you don't think about (your) sounds in such categories?
MF: I world nor use those words. I prefer to use technical vocabulary to describe sounds. But I can't think of any common physical features of the sounds I use.
PT: What are the qualities or values you look for in music? Be it your own or that made by other people (if that differs)?
MF: I don‘t really look for qualities or values. Its not like there is a series of things or a checklist I have which I get out whenever I make or listen to music so that I can work out how much I like it. For me this assumption is a little unfortunate I think.
PT: What you wrote somehow corresponds with what I was thinking about your music: that it's a self-contained entity, in a sense "aimless", because there aren't obvious things listener could "gain" from listening to it.
MF: Maybe people gain something. But the aim of the music is not to promote that gain. The aim of the music was for me to make some music I liked.
PT: It brings me back to the first situation when I experienced your art. That was in Poznan when you were presenting "Attack on Silence", which is quite demanding. The audience wasn't very patient and after some time started to talk and make noises with beer cans, etc. But I felt that you weren't bothered by that at all or you were even glad that this, let say, friction happened.
MF: Yes, I don‘t really mind the audience not paying attention. I mean if I present works that are quite boring then I guess I can‘t blame the audience for feeling bored.
PT: So this "boredom" is interesting for you - why is that?
MF: Boredom is an interesting state for me because it’s the opposite of what music is meant to make you feel. You become primarily aware of time and your own thoughts.
PT: I see what you mean with being "aware of time", I think you more often achieve it not through long duration but repetitions with small variations - am I right?
MF: Well I think longer durations promote a different response. The way I use shorter durations sounds quite dynamic I think. That is - non boring I mean. But it could be just as boring I guess.
PT: Is this way of working with sounds somehow related to the so called "club music"?
MF: With club musics those repetitions are of a certain kind and add up to certain regular durations etc. But with the shorter duration I was using this was not the case.
PT: And in a broader perspective: do you feel inspired or influenced in any way by club music? Or connected to this "scene"?
MF: Actually yes. For me the most interesting music has always come from the club music scene. This seems especially true today. But I listen at home. I can’t be bothered going out these days. ahaha
PT: Could you name some names?
MF: I would rather not name names sorry!
PT: And you don't believe in all this talk "you have to go to the club to really feel/experience the music in the context, to really get what it's all about"?
MF: There's nothing important about going to a club. There's no rules about experiencing music.
PT: So how do you treat performing live (I mean - you performing your music)? What chances and opportunities it gives you, which aren't available with the medium of the record? And what problems it generates? And also: how your approach changed trough all those years?
MF: It‘s nice to use it as an opportunity to explore the parameters of the system you are working with. More and more it feels like that. Rather than a performance. Problems are typically that sound can be not as good as one expects, and too much waiting around. I guess I‘m more confident now so I can explore things at a more relaxed pace.
PT: Could you tell me something about Sensate Focus? When seen from the club music perspective it could be perceived as a commentary to house music, possibly stating its agony. And what about those pencils?
MF: The pencils were made because all the music is made using the pencil tool in digital performer. I like the sounds in house music, but I prefer more unfamiliar rhythms. So that‘s why I made Sensate Focus
PT: How did the collaboration with Terre Thaemlitz come about? And what's the idea for this project?
MF: He‘s an old friend. He was in London, so we decided to do it.
PT: Do you think it is possible to create and listen to music in an uncritical, non-reflective way?
MF: I guess a cow or a baby would be able to do so yes.
Based in Warsaw, Glissando is a quarterly, popularising magazine devoted to all ambitious forms of contemporary music and other arts presented in relationship to it.