15 August 2012

Ship Canal interview

If I had to describe Ship Canal in one line, I wouldn't bother - I'd just drop this link to Kek-W's incredible press release for the Ship Canal cdr he put out entitled Please Let Me Back into Your House. Ship Canal is made by Daniel Baker, whose own description of the music runs something like: "Dissociated echo phantasies and budget dole noise for no one in particular" and "An attempt to honestly document life on the margins of social acceptability in the age of information overload. There are no mistakes. All avenues are open." To me it's the sound of youtube's algorithm getting rewritten, or overwritten, or getting into a fight with, the neural pathways of the human brain: strange splashes of found tonal colour, edges left frayed, collaged and accelerated into a blur, until the colours run and meld into a kind of deep, stewed (mushroom) tea brown.

Ship Canal - A fucking cuddle from Vickie McDonald on Vimeo.

Dan is an ex-blogger, who wrote this rather brilliant post about Andrea Pirlo during Euro 2012, which is well worth reading in conjunction with the following interview. His music is available from Hand Loom Lament.

How did Ship Canal get started? Is it your first attempt at making music?

Ship Canal was basically born out of frustration and alienation. I'm pretty old fashioned when it comes to shit like this. It was, and essentially remains, a coping mechanism. I was 24 and the absolute epitome of the "graduate without a future", mired in debt, on the dole, drinking too much and attempting to get started as a freelance writer. That basically fell on its arse. I still write for various different folk but I find the whole process to be somewhat torturous. I don't get a great deal of pleasure out of act of writing, basically. One of the most inherently rotten consequences of web 2.0 has been that the insanely rapid fragmentation and turnover of subgenres and aesthetic motifs week by week creates this intense fucking anxiety. I don't know about anyone else, but it takes me about four hours just to keep up with my Google Reader subscriptions. And thats without factoring in the time it takes to listen to all this shit once I've found out about it. Generally, my week begins around Tuesday, having spent the majority of Monday sorting out messes from the end of the week before and the subsequent weekend. I don't really think my gross inability to be able to handle more than a few responsibilities at any given time was designed to serve me particularly well in full blown adulthood. So I found the hyper-engagement necessary to be a truly on-it music writer just outrageoulsy fucking anxiety inducing.

So by this time I was just feeling completely aimless. The majority of people I know who are my age have these relatively secure jobs, might have their own place and a fair bit of disposable income or whatever. I felt like, considering I didnt have any of those things, I'd just go for it and start making music again to cheer me up. I was in punk bands between the age of about 14-18 when I was growing up in Manchester. Washnigton DC Hardcore changed my life, absolutely turned the world upside down for me, politically and musically. Within a year of stumbling across a second hand copy of Repeater by Fugazi in Vinyl Exchange I was listening to Throbbing Gristle, John Cage, Coil... total lifechanger. Around the age of 17 through til fairly recently my life wasn't really working out as I had hoped and I made a (no doubt entirely unfounded) connection between the years when I had been previously happiest and those that came after. I figured it was the pleasure of making weird noises that I had missed most of all, so it made sense to start again.

Only this time I was attempting to somehow filter and make sense of these myriad influences that had blown apart my mind in the meantime... 18-21 is a pretty formative period in anyones life. I'd first moved to Glasgow in 2004 and it was pretty much the place to be in the UK for that whole free folk/noise crossover kind of thing. Volcanic Tongue was just opening and the Instal festival hadn't dissapeared right up its own self serving congratulatory arse quite yet... it was while I was being exposed to all this wild stuff that was totally new to me... free jazz, private press folk, Sublime Frequencies compilations, Fluxus... that I first heard dubstep... Mud by Loefah... and I was just totally taken. That dread, that pure evocation of tower blocks and paranoid walks home from parties, lights out, head down sort of skank... that was my first opportunity to get in at the inception of a rave culture. During that brief little gestation period when we were all not meant to be calling it Wonky, I was still pretty transfixed, but the complete lack of any critical voices from within the scene indulging in anything beyond backslapping and bigging up a release because it had the right name or label on the front of the record began to do my tits in. Similarly, the noise/improv/whatever scene in Glasgow was pretty dispiriting, it had either become a boring as all hell competition to see who could crescendo at the loudest volume or the interesting folk had moved on to some watered down cosmic mumbo jumbo hippy bullshit. I'd come back from these gigs mystifid as to how these people made these noises come out of their endless banks of effects units and pedals and just feel like banging my head against the wall... I didn't have the money or the inclination to get hold of any of that shit, and even if I did I worried that someone who might come to one of my gigs would look at it and feel just as alienated as I had done a few weeks previously.

Then I read an interview with Moon Wiring Club where he mentioned that he created all his music with a copy of Music 2000 and an old Playstation. That was like dropping the needle on Repeater again. A whole new world opened up.

So, roughly, what is your process? How do the tracks get made?

For the reasons outlined above, I keep this fundamentally limited to resources I had available to me when I begun work on my first tunes. The micro manifesto that I issued with my first release still dictates most of my decisions. I wanted someone on 50quid a week, as I was, to be able to hear it and not feel like it was totally removed from their everyday experience: "Ship Canal uses illegally downloaded and cracked versions of software, free VST's, a stolen Singstar microphone, homemade cassette loops, semi legal Youtube to MP3 converters and fourth generation Mancunian folklore exclusively."
So a cracked copy of Ableton is the basis for most of it. I have absolutely no idea how to use it from a technical point of view. If someone is reading this right now thinking, "shit, I don't even know what Ableton IS, how the fuck am I meant to work that out", don't worry. NEITHER DO I! Just download it and mess about with it. Thats what I'm doing. There are no mistakes, just different outcomes. So yeah, I tend to start out with a few loops that I've culled from field recordings I make on a 20quid MP3 player I bought from Argos years ago. I bang so many effects on top of those recordings that they end up as the textural basis of the tune.

Then I start layering stuff by selecting music, at random from my Itunes. Other peoples music. If I think "this tunes needs to sound more haunting" or "this tune is about that weird bit of folklore I cam across in that book", I'll plump for, say, Shirley Collins, or Jandek or someone. I just drag it in, drop it into Ableton, pound it with effects, maybe transpose it so its going at a snails pace, and thats another element. Most of my tracks have around 5 or 6 elements I've sourced from a previously recorded song. They are so heavily processed that no one would ever tell, but again, its just something that anyone can do. Its sampling, but as texture as opposed to jarring bricolage.

After that I'll add synth, I use freeware (or illegally downloaded) VST synths and use my laptop keyboard to play them on Ableton. Then I'll finish things off with adding heavily echoed and delayed vocal murmerings and any spoken word samples/loops I've got left over

What, if anything, does the 'trash stratum' means to you? I'm thinking of P K Dick's interest in trash/junk as a kind of modern-day I Ching . . .

I bloody love Philip K Dick. Proper hero that bloke. Should probably have knocked the wizz on the head like, but nobodys perfect. In terms of assigning some sort of divinely instructive quality to consumerist trash culture though, I'm not so sure. I think its essential that people attempt to reverse the flow of the endless objects, ideas, emblems, sounds and narratives that capital is constantly bombarding us with. And I'm not talking about some tame circus act culture jam. The reason I''ve limited myself to cheap equipment, like the singstar microphone I stole from some party and youtube rippers, is that its a (small) act of solidarity, really. These things surround all of us, forever morphing into the next version of themselves and forcing us to live faster than any civilization can reasonably be expected to. If they are going to define our lives, as they already do, I'll be fucked if I'm not going to try and use them to create something someone can feel identifed with, as opposed to alienated by.

I bought my laptop two years ago and there are already numerous things I can't run on it. I met someone recently who genuinely couldnt comprehend the fact that my mobile wasn't a 3g Iphone with an internet connection. I mean, how fucking WRONG is that?

I'm chiefly concerned with non physical trash though. With having far too much information to process and saying, alright then, you fuckers, I'm going to meld this all together and its going to be a horrible big mess. Thats one of the reasons my musics getting more mournful. I'm obsessed with the fact that my generation is going to be the last one that remembers what life was like before AND after the internet. I'm traumatized by it, to be frank.

If I was around in the early 60's I'd probably be having a go at singing Industrial folk or summat. I'm just trying to use the resources I feel are appropriate for the age we live in. That and I'm always broke.

is Ship Canal in part 'about' the internet then, without meaning to make it sound like hipsterunoff...? In the sense that that's where those flows of stupefying/entrancing signs and energies are strongest? When you sift the currents of youtube for material to rip, do you feel like you're floating along on that current, or trying to jam it, or just cut some of it off into an altogether different channel (like a canal I guess?)

Yeah, without a doubt. And it isnt just the potential for stuepfication and info-overload inertia that I'm trying to deal with... its the insanely habitual aspect of the whole thing. I can't be the only person who rails against the infinity of useless, neverending, back and forth, inanity underneath youtube videos and newspaper articles... but sometimes I'll glance up from the screen and I've been scrolling through the comments... THE COMMENTS FOR FUCKS SAKE!.... for over an hour. I abhore primitivism and anti-civilizational guff, but I'd happily class myself as some sort of neo-luddite. I'm talking about the true message of the luddites though, that their class enemies neatly wrote out of history. They werent against technology per-se in the slightest. They were against its negative effects on the commonality of man, and against the interests of the elites that funded that technology. Theres been a lot of talk recently about the opportunities that things like social networking have provided for horizontalist, decentralized organizing, but the amount of surveillance and commodification of your personal interests that something like Facebook involves is fucking terrifying. As plenty of much more eloquent people than I have pointed out, the internet doesnt exist outside of capital. Yet I'm on it every day, wasting hours of time. So theres always that tension in my gut, which is one of the reasons I like to try and make sense of that with tunes.

When I'm mining things like Youtube for samples and what have you, I'll tend to just lose myself in hours of stuff and just bookmark, bookmark, bookmark. I'll maybe come back a few days later and try and focus stuff a bit more before I rip it, but I just rip the whole thing and I tend to decide which parts I'm going to use as I'm putting a track together in real time. I have no idea what most of the effects on Ableton are supposed to do, other than a vague notion of what things like reverb and delay mean, so I try and ensure I'm similarly unsure as to which samples I'm going to fuck with at any given time. I definitley don't identify with the notion of (cultural) jamming, at least not in its more recent high profile incarnation, which is kind of the coffee table book activist equivalent of painfully middle class "street art". As far as I'm concerned that kind of thing has already been appropriated and regurgitated as the default corporate advertizing gesture of the last decade. Thats why I try to use my samples as textures and obscure their origins as much as possible.

I was also wondering about the titles, the mournful/solitary moods... it suggests quite a rare thing - a noise/drone/loops set that's concerned with romantic misadventure?

Please Let Me Back Into Your House is definitley concerned with that, on some of the tracks at least. Although I'd emphasize the misadventure over the romance. Having said that, it was predominantly influenced by Tunnel Of Love by Bruce Springsteen (seriously!), which is one of my favourite records of all time. Seriously, thats the stadium rock equivalent of Closer right there. Its fucking harrowing! Its so difficult to find good depressing music these days. Codeine were another massive influence on that album, as was Jandek. And tons of terrible, terrible booze, and questionable skunk, obviously.

Its more melancholy I'd guess though. I don't think my musics particularly maudlin or depressing, but its certainly melancholic. I hope it doesn't sound too wallowing or defeatist. I usually set out to make techy bass music but get lost in the intro and before I know it I'm 7 minutes in and I really ought to stop. Looking back on it, some of the track names were probably chosen as an attempt to try and express a disillusionment with this meanness that seems to permeate every pore of our culture these days. Theres this pathological application of completely vaccuous forms of corporate expression to every aspect of our daily lives. Mark Fishers Capitalist Realism, basically. Everyone seems to be defined by whether or not they work. I watched that documentary Waiting For Work again recently, and there is this really moving bit where this young bloke is explaining how the lack of money in his pocket is actually impinging on his ability to start a relationship with the girl he's fond of, because he's too proud to ask anyone out if he can't take them anywhere and spend money on them. So thats me I guess...somewhere in between romantic misadventure and class war. Which is probably the pub.


Loki said...

he's such a liar... i met him last year when some of his courtiers pushed me out the way so his Golden Fuck Coach could park...he HUNTS poor people, just like Sir Miles tache in The Invisibles... Ship Canal is just his way of luring them in... every sound is a siren for the working classes, and not in a good way...

Ship Canal said...

*hastily discards monacle and antiquated hunting rifle*

Bah, rumbled!

And I woulda' gotten away with it too, if it weren't for that pesky Loki!

stephen graham said...

I love that description of his process...hilarious and quite inspiring!

Matthew Ingram said...

thanks sam for putting this up. that ship canal - they're certainly on to something. "a fucking cuddle " sounds great.