interviewed by Chris Moon

C: You've obviously massed a pretty sizable number of releases (mostly out of print). Tell me a story about when and why you first started recording. Fiction is OK, no one will know the difference.

A: Truth is stranger than fiction perhaps. Like most kids I was pretty obsessed with my tape recorder. The 1st recording I can remember making was actually a fairly awful and embarrassing incident… We had a girl in our class at school who was very slightly 'plump' and I dubbed a copy of Queens 'We will rock you' and painstakingly went through and recorded the words 'pop you' over the 'rock yous'.... It never even occurred to me that this might hurt her feelings and was quite devastated myself when she burst into tears as I played it on the class tape deck at lunchtime... 'We will, we will pop you!'... Awful memory.
Perhaps more relevant is the story of how, when my family moved from a small rural town in the Sth Is. [South Island] to Auckland (NZs biggest city) I recorded a tape of 'choice' radio static that I used to play to drown out the city noises. I had an irrational hatred of 'the urban' (which lasted many years), and used to play this when I went to bed and pretend it was a river! There was no 'artistic' or 'musical' intent behind this though.
Later on my father started teaching me the guitar and I started obsessively recording everything I did. I used to do overdubs via that classic method (which I still use from time to time) of just blasting recordings back into the room and playing along. I remember being real pleased with a recording I did of guitar being scraped with a ringing alarm clock, but really there was no 'avant intent' behind that. I was just a geeky kid. I wanted to write nice poetic folksongs. They just came out kind of 'wrong'...
As I started moving into my later teens I discovered student/college radio. The boundaries of the term 'music' extended somewhat. I had been writing a lot of songs and playing them to anyone who would listen (not very many people at all...). The stuff I heard on Student Radio inspired me to stop trying to be Bob Dylan, or Neil Young... There was some cool NZ stuff there that I had just never encountered before. (I had essentially grown up in a town with 1 small radio station that played lots (and lots!) of Kenny and Dolly.)

C: How did the 'pre-Corpus/Metonymic' scene affect your music? I mean bands like what started with the Clean, but more importantly some of the 'pop' bands that Stapleton, Montgomery, Jefferies, etc. were in?

A: I left home on my bicycle when I was 18. You know, I was finally escaping the big bad city to live in the Sth Is again. I ended up working and living on an orchard. There was a guy there who I used to jam with and he was a real fan of Peter Jefferies, Dead C etc. The 1st time I listened to his tapes I thought they were absolute shit(!), but then something happened (possibly chemical...) and the next time I listened I 'got' it. I wound up dubbing a lot of his stuff. My own songwriting got much 'looser' and more spontaneous and gestural from that point on. I remember that I was just amazed that you could 'get away' with releasing your home recordings. It was like hearing this stuff sanctioned that whole approach. It was a revelation.
(Later, when I was living in Christchurch, my favourite band was the Terminals who used to play there a bit. I was inspired by their live energy and 'seat of the pants' rocking out... The ‘This Kind of Punishment’ albums were incredibly inspirational. )

C: From my naive USA perspective, Bruce Russell really coined the phrase 'free noise', giving a name to a growing scene that actually reached the awareness of our foreign shores. How does your history weave into the fabric of the one we already know here (along with the Dead C of course)? Is A.M. a missing piece of the mid 90's NZ explosion, or did it rise from the ashes?

A: I think it WAS Bruce, and the formation of Xpressway, that was primarily responsible for 'Free Noise'. Definitely. Again it seems to me that it was the act of sanctioning an approach, by having the sheer nouse to just do it... I mean people everywhere had probably had ecstatic moments standing in front of howling fucked up guitar amps, and we'd probably all recorded the same on walkmans and gotten a buzz from listening back, but it took a special kind of insight to recognise that this thing could be shared.
     Even so, I myself never really sought to release any tapes of that kind of stuff until much later... I can't claim to be any sort of missing link at all really. Although myself and a lot of the people I knew were hugely inspired by that whole thing, and were even doing and recording similar sounds (for ourselves), for the earlier part the 90s I was still primarily interested in songwriting... I remember doing 1 solo noise gig back then, as backing for a dance/performance piece by Jules Novena Sorrel. I made an instrument from a plank with wire strings and a guitar pickup. It was mainly just feedback, clunks and buzzes, and occasional flute playing over the top... Its quite possible that it was the best gig of my life. I wish I'd recorded it! (But perhaps I wouldn't remember it with such fondness if I had?) It was an incredible experience for me. Ultimately though the response then freaked me out a little. I was quite amazingly shy and insecure back then...
1995-1997 was a fairly important period for me. I had started WiRe BRidGe (a small cassette label) and was recording and 'releasing' a lot of stuff. You know, mainly in editions of 10 or 15... About 50/50 songs/'noise'. I think I had really found my own 'voice' by that stage, and I still like most of that material, but I was pretty woeful at 'networking'. I played down in Dunedin a couple of times, in Christchurch a little bit. However, despite the fact that it was practically all I did with my time, and people being quite supportive, I never really became part of the scene. I was definitely more of a hippy than I was an art-punk. A lot of those guys seemed frighteningly sophisticated to me then. (Urbane?) Again, I was just too shy... In late 1997 I released 2 tapes, one of which was Sirens, and beat a hasty retreat to Australia with my girlfriend. Sirens actually ended up making something of a ripple, but I didn't find that out until a few years later when I came back to NZ.

C: Describe your music. Your philosophy of music. Your tools of music. What is the best way to listen to your music?

A: The music that is most powerful for me is that music that can take me from one place and put me in another... There are definite 'religious overtones' to my feelings about music, simply due to the fact that the heightened emotional and perceptual states it can sometimes take you to are as close to spiritual as any I have had.
I think as time has gone by I have become more inclined to release the recordings that I myself least understand, at least in a 'rational' sense... I had something of a 'post-structuralist' crisis and lost faith in 'the word'. I tend now to prefer music that (in an oblique fashion) hints at fleeting / ’special’ states of consciousness... (This is maybe a little wacky but I have drifted away from a kind of 'serious', -but obviously 'recreational' (...) -philosophical exploration of psychedelics toward 1 facilitated by sound.) I sometimes splurge out in 'grand gestures' (like The Stumps' space rock excess, some of the 'noisier', ecstatic A.M stuff...), but am more generally interested in the small, the private, and the intimate.
     The bulk of the music I do these days is about 'gesture'. One metaphor I like to use is that of calligraphy. I also try to be 'reflexive' in my recording methods... For example I try to make it clear (in my lo-fi way...) that my recording has occurred in a ‘place’- I will often employ a microphone especially to capture the background incidental noises that orthodox recording technique attempts to eradicate, and often this background noise will provide the overall structure for a piece. So, with these sounds representing a kind of 'problem', I then add other sounds and textures - sometimes ‘melodic’, sometimes not- in an attempt to resolve this 'problem' according to my ear and 'sensibilities', and hopefully even transform it into something that can communicate (like a poem/haiku) something of the feeling of that time and place... The Nether Dawn for example is a project that involves setting up my gear in the lounge at home (usually when my girlfriends away...) and improvising along with feeling of being in a dimly lit room in a ramshackle old house in the city after midnight...
I guess I should also own up to the fact that I have never really spent any money on musical equipment (well besides a new set of guitar strings every few years. -ha!). Most of the equipment that I use I have salvaged from skips or bought for next to nothing from garage sales. Old taperecorders and $2 microphones. (I have however been lucky enough though to get some pretty nice hand me downs, somebody gave me a Gibson electric guitar for example..!). I enjoy working within , and around, the limitations of this gear...
In recent times I have been using computers more. The 'Paintings of Windows' project for example is all about taking field recordings, sometimes including instrumental sounds, and working with these on my computer in an attempt to 'craft' my subjective version of the 'perfect' representation of the underlying 'mood' of those recordings. Again though my pc is a hand-me-down, runs on win95, and doesn't have enough hard drive or ram to run more than the most rudimentary of sound software. I like to use what is at hand.
In listening to music a huge part of my appreciation is based in some kind of feeling of empathy with the artist... Riding their inspirations and gestures with them. I guess that I hope, like most musicians, that my music can work in a variety of ways. I definitely think that it stands up to ‘deep listening’, in that that is something of the approach that I am employing in its construction, but I also don’t mind the idea of it being background music, or ‘narrative’ music, and I hope that at least some of it is exciting and stimulating!

C: I want another story. Tell me about PsuedoArcana. Indulge. Is PseudoArcana supposed to have a space between it? Should the Arcana be capitalized? I think it should! Why does PseudoArcana show up backwards on the back of your releases? What does PseudoArcana mean anyway?

A: PseudoArcana started out as a specific project but rapidly turned into a label... Spending a few years away from NZ changed me in many ways. I had up until that time been kind of obsessed with a sort of feral 'nature mysticism', and something of a hermit. A lot of personal mythologies collapsed whilst I was away and I came back determined to engage more critically with the world, and the society that was most evident around me.
      The initial idea with P.A was to do a series of improvised site-specific recordings to play with - and critique - the idea of documentation and its relationship with some kind of ideal of authenticity. (Basically I think I had been reading waaayyyy too much theory!) I had always enjoyed making and designing the packaging for musical releases and was after a new project of this kind.
      The 1st recording/release was a tape of conversations 'stolen' from the streets of Wellington. An attempt to show (and celebrate) the relative mundanity of everyday conversation in order to highlight media representations of 'dialogue'. The tapes were distributed anonymously back throughout the city, gaffer taped in the locations in which they were recorded.
The name does not have a space in it, and it is meant to be a capital A - although I still forget that myself sometimes! As wanky as the initial concept was, the name itself was intended as a critique of what has often seemed to be an elitist and high-brow perception of 'experimental' music. It is so often represented as an arcane and privileged discourse, and I guess I found that kind of problematic. The name is therefore a reflective way of saying that ‘this is the type of music that people say is trying to be arcane but which is really just 'stuff that people do''.
      The inversion of the word for the logo is a kind of further piss-take of the idea of the 'genius artist'. Leonardo DiVinci used to write backwards, I used a calligraphic looking font and it delights me that it comes out so obviously pixellated.
The initial concept of PseudoArcana soon fell by the wayside as I lost interest in (dry) documentation for its own sake and became more interested again in hinting at lusher subtexts.
I did a sound installation at a gallery and on the last night of that did a performance with Campbell Kneale and others and decided to release that as a cdr on P.A. (CDRs were quite a revelation- I had missed out on the whole beginning of the cdr thing because I was kind of 'out of the loop' whilst overseas.)
     I kind of liked the name and so kept it. It also felt kind of different than what I had been doing with Wire Bridge. From then on I started releasing all my own stuff as P.A releases.
I had been in touch with Simon Wickham Smith and it occurred to me to offer him a release - and I kind of expected him to say no actually- but he said yes and that was really the start of the label proper as I suddenly had the responsibility of finding ears for the amazing music of someone who had been kind enough to trust me to release it!
      From then on its kind of exploded, PA's up to 40 releases now. It has become a much bigger enterprise than it was ever intended to be, and is a lot of work, but I find the positive response to it all really gratifying!
     One of the ideas that I have about the label is that it should be more about ‘flights of fancy’ than about the ‘groove’.

C: What do you have in mind for the PseudoArcana 2004 catalog?

A: There are actually quite a few decisions to be made. There is a sense in which the workload is getting a little beyond me and although I swore I would never do it I am now considering deleting some of the back catalogue to try and simplify things. (IE If anybody is after some of those earlier releases I would therefore suggest getting them soon as they won't be available for much longer!)
     Doing this will 'clear the decks' somewhat for some of the really great stuff coming up. I have releases coming up from 1/3 Octave Band, Donald McPherson, Keijo Virtanen, LaGloria, a split Leighton Craig/Antony Milton 10", a new Seen Through disk is immanent, and then theres my new duo with Campbell Kneale.
     I am particularly excited by a master disk I received a few days ago by Greg Larking. I have played and recorded with Greg for years (in Street etc) but this will be his 1st solo release. A series of beautiful minimal piano and organ improvisations recorded (quite audibly -- hooray!) in his sunroom. Exquisite and subtle stuff.
     Perhaps the biggest news is that I will be doing the 1st P.A CD. This will be a compilation of 'cover versions' of the 'Tone of the Universe'... A fairly heady concept ! Expect celestial drones and rumblings from Birchville Cat Motel, Thuja, Avarus, Sandoz Lab Techs,Yermo(!) Uton, Reynols, and more.

C: If you haven't already, explain the difference between Antony Milton, A.M., Nether Dawn and Paintings of Windows? Incidentally, are we going to get a full length of Paintings of Windows? Is there one already and I'm just sadly lacking a copy?

A: Mmmm, I often wonder if having lots of projects just confuses people?
     Antony Milton (...) tends to be small intimate 'songs', or perhaps 'almost songs'…(Fairly rare for me to release stuff under my own name at the moment).
     A.M is more 'noise'... It's more about exploring the 'idea' of recording itself..?! Veers between a sparse documentary approach and layered collagey stuff.
     Nether Dawn is a state dependent project. It is late night music. More 'traditionally' musical? "Midnight Drone Blues". Long ‘psychedelic’ improvisations…
     Swagger Jack is a ramshackle hillbilly shaped vehicle for singing folksongs.
     Various duos: Claypipe (with CJA), Seen Through (with Ben Spiers), Street (with Greg Larking).
     P.o.W: Kind of filmic? Take field recs and edit them to create aural narratives. (There are 2 Paintings of Windows albums under construction… One based on field recordings from a local park, the other from recordings from India and Pakistan. My computer is so slow that I sometimes despair of ever completing them. I find working on PoW stuff quite meditative, but have to be in the right headspace to handle some of the interminable processing times etc. Also as the label gets ever busier the computer seems to be jammed up with label stuff. One day I will be able to afford an upgrade!)

C: The Stumps!!!

A: The Stumps is the only 'real' 'Rock band' I've ever played in. But then again, it's perhaps more free noise than rock anyway? The other members are Stephen Clover, who also plays solo as 'seht', and James Kirk from Sandoz Lab Technicians. After years of performing solo it’s been really fun to play live in a group. It’s so much easier, and perhaps even more conducive to flights of fancy... I was given a multi-effects unit by my brother in law around the time we started the band (the 1st effects pedal I've ever had!) and as a result guitar reverb and delay excess have made it kind of spacey over all. Stephen's bass playing is very kraut inspired. James’ drums are kind of rolling free jazz…. Tends to be quite loud. We have been called a "pocket sized Fushitsusha", which is kind of cute. We have one 3" I've put out on P.A, an album recorded that’s looking for a home (any ‘garage psyche’ labels out there?..!), and a 20min live trk coming out on a split live release on Haamumaa.

C: What is your favorite beer? For that matter, what kind of beer can you get in New Zealand? And a third question, what brewers in New Zealand do you recommend? Is there beer I can get there that I can't get anywhere else?

A: The whole nature of beer in New Zealand has changed radically in the last few years. We used to have 2 or 3 main breweries that sold lots and lots of draught and that was about it. Recently however, with the sudden explosion of what is becoming a quite radical divergence between the ‘fiscal’ classes in New Zealand, there has been an influx of international beers, small boutique breweries, and a kind of ‘gentrification’ of the olde breweries.
      Now, nobody's going to complain about the fact that the beer here is suddenly a lot more palatable. The problem lies in the fact that the better beers are so much more expensive and that we’ve all had our tastes spoilt! The ‘traditional’ draughts are still available, largely I suspect for their iconic value, but who wants to drink that stuff?!
      In a quite terrible betrayal of the ‘national interest’ I myself have in fact turned to cheap imported Australian beers, perhaps the equivalent of an American turning to Canada? I find that these are more reasonably priced than even those old draughts… The fact that they come in bigger cans, and have a higher alcohol content for the same price, are also factors in this decision…(actually as an aside, although I can’t remember my last day without a beer (I even carried it in my bike panniers on a recent cycling trip…), my real alcoholic passion is for whisky… If I wasn’t into music I think I would quite possibly pursue distilling with an equal degree of passion!)

C: Can you really go swim with dolphins and whales and shit or is that just what they say in the travel brochures (well actually, Mats Gustafsson said it too, Broken Face, Issue #6)?

A: Yes, you can. (Although you’ll see far more in Australia…) I haven’t. Its expensive! NZ is very beautiful, and is relatively unspoilt. – In places! I am lucky to live here…

C: What is the best album ever?

A: I’m just not that kind of guy!

C: What on earth is a 'secular pilgramage'? What sort of degree do you write papers like this for?

A: I’m doing a double major in Religious Studies and Media Studies…. The answering of these interview questions has been a seductive, but not unproblematic diversion from working on a paper about the role of nature in the national identity of New Zealand, and whether holidays and journeys into ‘nature’ could be said to represent a kind of secular pilgrimage that reinforces this national identity……… As I come to the end of my 3 years here I find that I know and care far less about these kinds of subjects than I ever did before. And what the fuck am I going to do with a Religious Studies degree???