Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Interview - Abandon Reason/ Declan Kelly

Probably my favourite compilation of 2013 is "I'm in the Abyss!", a collection of live recordings from a loosely-connected network of musicians recorded in a disused four-stories deep underground car park in Galway. I wrote about it at length for The Quietus earlier in the year, read that here if you like.

Declan Kelly is the founder of the label that released the compilation, Abandon Reason, as well as one of the main driving forces of the nexus of experimentation that has been going on in the car park and elsewhere (unfortunately, the underground car park has now been closed off to the public). I interviewed him a while back in what was supposed to be an audio interview, but gremlins put paid to that. So instead I transcribed it like an old-fashioned text interview. I don't really know what's going on with the line/paragraph spacing here, just go with it.

So Abandon Reason then. Tell us how it started.

Well…I suppose it properly started when I decided to take all these recordings that I’d been doing with a rake of people in the car park. I’d thought of the name Abandon Reason before most of these recordings had happened, just as in ‘that would be a good name for something’. Originally when I came up with the name I was thinking it’d be a name for a label, but I didn’t think that I would be cut out for doing a label so I kind of put it on the backburner, and then once the idea came around to do a radio show I thought it’d be a good name for the radio show; then if I wanted to I could use it for the name of the label as well and it would be fine. 

So yeah, the first thing I did was the radio show for Curious Broadcast, which was every two weeks; each show was a half hour mix basically from the previous... at that time there was maybe just shy of two years worth of recordings from various people - like mostly friends and stuff - all done in the car park. The first two episodes I tried to make it kind of like...I tried to do presentations and an introduction, but once I thought ‘I should do an introduction’ I couldn’t really not do it in the car park because it’d be kind of weird if I was just in my room recording it and then maybe trying to make it sound as if I was in the car park - so I just went to the car park to record the introductions.

Who was first to stumble across the underground car park and think 'hmmm, this would be a good place to record/ have a gig?'

I dunno, as far as I know I’m the only one who actually went through with it, but there could have been plenty of other people who stumbled upon it and thought it’d be a good place for a gig. I was shown it by a friend of a friend, this guy who was…the three of us were into photography, and if you’re a photographer you’re pretty much going to like decrepit and random places; it’s a big thing these days, the urban exploration kind of craic, so we were always kind of on the lookout for any space that we would just be free to take your time taking pictures and whatnot. So this guy had been out walking his dog out in Salthill and just happened to stumble across it. I dunno what brought him to actually go down there ..

There's a word I think for people like that who kind of explore decaying urban spaces.

Yeah, I was reading an article the other week about this (I think it was in the Guardian). I didn’t realise there was all this kind of jargon surrounding it. I just see that whole thing of exploring abandoned places, or just exploring the city or urban spaces - I wouldn't even think of it in words like that...

A hobby? Yeah it’s just something that I naturally - and I know that plenty of other people - like to do. I’m not so much interested in exploring the spaces of another city - that doesn’t really interest me as much as, like, private or abandoned or unusual places within a place that I’m so familiar with, you know? Like I grew up here and lived here my whole life, so it’s a lot more interesting to me when you get into a place and you get up high and you look out and you see this place that’s so familiar from a completely different perspective; it’s a strange feeling, it makes you feel like you’re looking at a new place, even though you recognise landmarks and stuff - like you might see the cathedral or the Dunnes store car park or the sea or whatever, but you’re seeing it from a different angle; and that’s one of the main things that gets me going to these kind of places: just seeing as much as I can of this just completely familiar landscape

Also, there’s less and less places you can go these days, you know...People are getting more paranoid, they don’t want their properties damaged, so they put up gates and fences. Like there’s an alley in town - just an alley that goes from one street to another, and it was really handy if you wanted to get to the docks without going around to the end of the street - but last year they just put up a gate and you can’t get in: nobody can get in there anymore, there's no reason for it... Well there’s a reason, obviously - people drinking; but it’s a pity that rather than actually looking at why people are hanging about in there, rather than try to solve that problem, it’s just like ‘well we’ll just stop them from going in there’; so people just go somewhere else and then that’s the next place that’s going to be closed off to everyone. So it’s like a case of ‘if I can’t have it nobody can’.

The abandoned car park and the development it was part of, there's sort of a sad but interesting story behind it.

Yeah there is - like there’s a huge apartment block above, and then below there’s four stories of a car park; not only that but there’s a cinema complex with two cinema screens and seats laying up against the wall but not installed. The whole place was twelve weeks away from being finished.

On the bottom floor there’s a set of double doors and whatever’s behind it there’s always a light can kind of see through the cracks of the door and there’s a couple of holes in the wall - it just looked like a continuation of the car park, I never got in there. I found a key on the ground in there one day and thought that might be the key to the door, but I'm pretty sure I never bothered trying it; I brought it with me several times but always forgot that i had it.

Is there anywhere else lined up at the moment to make further recordings?

Well the weird thing was that it just became a thing almost of necessity without us knowing - when I say us I mean myself, Brigid (Power-Ryce) and Dave (Colohan) who would have gone there fairly often to record and stuff.

But in terms of another place, there’s plenty of places around that are large abandoned buildings or whatever and you can kind of feel free to do stuff...Like I still play music and record music in my room and stuff, I’ve always done that; and Brigid is the same - she likes recording in her sitting room or kitchen ‘cos it’s comfortable and you don't have to do much setting up or whatever, it might not be as interesting acoustically or whatever but..

In terms of Abandon Reason , you wouldn't see that as inextricably connected to the car park, you can bring out other releases?

No. The first few were always going to be based around the car park, partly to kind of...well especially since it closed down, I feel like it was kind of getting it a little bit out of my system as well...but yeah, it definitely won’t be the only thing that we do, there isn’t enough release-worthy stuff left anyway..

Like, stuff will probably pop up every now and again - I gave some recordings to Dave Colohan for a Raising Holy Sparks thing - that’s coming out fairly soon, that was recorded in the car park and it’ll be around at some point.

Brigid’s recent EP, that wouldn't be part of Abandon Reason?

No that’s just her own; we both did a few online EPs, it’s all self-released. We didn't really talk about them being Abandon Reason releases. For me anyway, the ones I released were pretty old and they were really things that I wanted to get out of my system and stop worrying or thinking “I’ve recorded these things and I was going to do something with them and I never did and now it’s four years later and I still haven’t done anything with them”... That’s one of the good things about putting them online, it gives you at least a very strong semblance of feeling like you’ve done something or you've worked something, so you can release it online and it feels substantial. So I think I'd rather keep Abandon Reason releases as fresh stuff - but it might be kind of on the back burner for a while now anyway because of college and stuff.
Is there something about Galway that lends itself to unconventional gigs/recording spaces?
Maybe... it’s a hard one to quantify, I was thinking about this recently...If I wasn’t from here and I’d been shown that place I would not have the guts at all to put on a gig there or even go there and bring instruments and recording equipment there or whatever - I just wouldn't do it because I wouldn't feel safe; but because it’s Galway - you don't necessarily feel absolutely 100% safe there, but I had a certain amount of confidence because I was so familiar with the area - and I tried to think “well, if I was from Dublin and I lived in Dublin all my life and I found a place like this in a similar environment - the closest thing to Salthill in Dublin is Dun Laoghaire maybe? - so if I found a place in Dun Laoghaire would I be able to do this?... and I dunno if I would obviously…
But in the sense of the relatively limited gigging infrastructure as well - would that influence not just the car park gigs but the fairy fort gigs before that?

Well that was sort of the start of it really, the fairy fort gigs, that was an eye-opener... and that took someone from Japan (Takashi Kumagai) coming here and seeing the potential of this space and just saying “I’m going to put on a gig here and just tell people about it”. He made posters as well though, he put up posters around town. When I saw that directly led to the house gigs: the summer that Takashi was doing the gigs was his last summer in Ireland; he wanted to do one more but he didn't really have time, what with finishing work and everything, so myself and Paul O'Reilly said that we would try to organise the last one. So we did, and we set it up and then it pissed rain when the time came around for the gig, which was the first time it had rained for any of the fairy fort gigs; he got away with doing three fairy fort gigs with no rain. So we relocated to Paul’s apartment and had the gig there, and then I think we had at least one or two more gigs in his apartment, and then we did a gig in my house and it just kind of followed from there. And it was soon after that first house gig - that was July 2010 - it was soon after that that my friend showed me the car park, so that was always figuring in as well.
I believe you have a prop at all your gigs in reference to Takashi.

Oh the pineapple...we haven't had it at every gig 'cos sometimes you kind of forget. For a while it was almost necessary to have a pineapple at every gig, sticking a candle in the top of it. As a reminder i suppose, or an acknowledgement rather, of Takashi’s contribution. Well not contribution - it was more than a contribution; he changed my whole way of thinking about live music I guess. I get very uncomfortable sometimes at gigs in traditional venues, like pubs or huge halls and things like that, I never feel quite comfortable enough. I always feel like it’s slightly jarring; it’s as if the people who are playing in the venue have to adjust themselves and their sound and their attitude to the venue, because the venue has got its equipment, its got its own rules and all that. Whereas an outdoor space or abandoned spaces or whatever, they are...I dunno?...cleaner or something, there’s less expectations. It’s more like you’re working in tandem with the environment rather than the environment imposing strict kind of rules.

Yeah I can see how the environment itself influences how the music is played or received
I think it seems more like a synergy kind of thing when its a space where there’s no lights and it’s cold and it’s wet, and you obviously do have to adjust to that as well, but once you do and once you kind of give yourself over to it, it’s almost as if the space has kind of given back. It’s like you’re collaborating with your surroundings, and that’s a really important thing to pursue, to be aware of your surroundings and be aware of what’s around you. That’s why I don’t like going to a gig in a pub or whatever and you’re so familiar with it already and it’s not really exciting. You know, the act is going to be exciting if you really like them and all that, but I think there’s something missing when the space itself is not that exciting to you or it’s too familiar. Maybe it’s just a problem of familiarity. Maybe it’s just purely the novelty of outdoor spaces or abandoned places for gigs or recording or whatever.
The Gorges tape - is it true that it was based on a dream?
Yeah well that was probably the most dramatic or compelling or romantic reason for doing it I suppose, but it kind of happened naturally enough. Well first of all Dave had this dream of myself and himself playing harmoniums. Myself, Brigid (Power-Ryce) and Aaron (Yawning Chasm) had just bought a harmonium between us, and so I think then Dave eventually - with that information - had a dream where he and I were playing harmoniums and Brigid was singing. I don’t know if the dream was actually in the car park, it might have been. But also Brigid was kind of...she had this cycle of songs that she'd been doing at gigs for about a year or so and she was kind of sick of singing them - she was kind of in between writing songs and stuff - so she just wanted to sing where she didn't have to use any words, she just wanted to use her voice basically. And then I guess I was getting into drone music and stuff, partly or mostly because of Dave - he told me about people like Charlemagne Palestine and Charalambides. So I was really looking to do more kind of drone stuff. And then there was the car park as well, and there was no reason why we shouldn’t just do that stuff, it was very easy - we just went and did it, and we were immediately really happy with it.
Was it all improvised or did it start with a theme or anything?
No, not at all. We just started playing and just see what happened. Like, the very very first thing that we did is on the tape - originally when we were putting the tape together, sequencing and stuff, the first thing on the tape was going to be the very first thing we did there, but it kind of didn't work sequentially. But it’s in there at some point - I think it’s on the first side.
I noticed the cassette has individual track titles but the Bandcamp stream is just labelled Sides A and B.
Yeah I wondered about actually naming the tracks or putting up separate tracks (on Bandcamp), but I didn't want to take away from the tape - like it’s a tape, and if you’re going to listen to it then listen to the entire side. Unfortunately it means that most people don’t stream it on Bandcamp, because it’s half an hour each side, so the statistics are quite low when it comes to the streaming, but it’s quite nice when you see that some people do actually listen to the entire thing the whole way through.
The set you played at the Aine O'Dwyer car park gig, is that part of it?
Both the horn piece that opens (the tape) and the very last track on the album are from that gig.
That gig saw a giant harp been brought underground.
Yeah the taxi driver that drove us out there, he was saying that he’d never transported a harp before and he was excited about the challenge or whatever. He was loving it.
What would be your favourite instrument in terms of how it interacts with that environment?

Oh the harmonium, definitely. It’s fairly versatile, you can do a lot of stuff - like you’ve got the drones with it and the deep notes: they only seem to ever get deeper when you introduce that level of reverb. And the high notes, they go really crazy, especially if you’re playing a few of them at the same time - you know, obviously with the two harmoniums, the high notes just seem to kind of gather around your head and you just start hearing all the different kind of harmonics and frequencies and everything; and you start hearing mad things and because you can’t see very well, it feeds into it. Like those immersion chamber things, what are they called? They’ve got a little pool of water in them and you lie down...

Sensory deprivation chambers?

That’s the kind of vibe that you get.
It’s like when one sense is taken away the other senses compensate.
Well yeah, basically your brain doesn't want to be bored, so that’s why dreams happen, because your brain is looking for ways to stimulate itself...I think that’s what it is anyway…
I like the way banjo sounds down there. It takes on a very different, more ambient quality.
Yeah, especially depending on where the recorder is in relation to where it’s being performed.
You all would move around a lot when you're performing.
We didn't always do that but it became a really important thing, because even just turning your head a different way changes what you hear - you’d hear more and you’d become even more aware, it’s like you’re just inputting information into your brain and your senses then start reacting more. You kind of understand the space a bit more when you walk around it. I guess it replaces actually seeing the space, ‘cos if you’re walking around and all you get is what you hear and what you can smell and feel, then it’s all going to lead to a certain kind of a picture. But yeah, other instruments...Violin sounds amazing down there. I can’t play violin but a couple of people play violins down there and that always sounded really good.
The Darugaries track sort of sounds like a mini-orchestra type thing.
Yeah it was kind of a jazz arrangement i guess. Horn instruments are really good as well, like the trombone. One of the guys had a trombone and then there was acoustic guitar and electronic instruments in there as well. The clarinet, too. Wind instruments in general sound incredible down there.
Was that the first time they all actually played together?
No, one of the guys, he’d only just joined them on their tour - the guy who played the trombone, Tomoyuki Mihara, he had only just started playing with them maybe a couple of days before, which was pretty amazing. But no, they’ve been playing together for about 10 years but the way they work is they don’ guy writes songs and the others then...they don’t practice necessarily, the others play live and the live gigs become their practice basically, so every time you see them play they’re playing a bit differently. They obviously settle eventually on a preferred structure...well the structure’s already there, but each individual player will settle on a preferred structure i guess. But yeah they’re essentially improvising.
Was the track on the comp an improvisation?
Well at the core of it was a structured song. The guy who’s singing it and playing guitar (Koichiro Miyaoka), it was his song that he’d written. Everything around it seems to be very fluid but it was a combination of them knowing the song but also being really accomplished improvisers as well, like jazz improvisers or whatever. But that’s the way I understand it, that they don’t practice in between gigs - they practice at the gig when they’re playing, or I guess at their sound checks or whatever, that was what I got from it.
They were there because of a gig in The Cellar the previous night, and they got myself, Aaron and Jimmy (Monaghan) - who were playing together as Yawning Chasm at the time - they got us to play with them on a song of theirs at the end and just got us to make stuff up. They played with Yawning Chasm as well on a couple of songs. It was pretty funny because we asked Takashi beforehand if he would play with us, and he said ‘yeah ok’ - because he plays trumpet and when he was here last he played with Aaron for one or two gigs anyway; he played with him in the Roisin once and he was playing trumpet and just improvising. So yeah, Aaron wanted him to do that again, and then when it got to the point where we were like ‘Takashi, come up on stage’, they all came up: there was like five of them all together, and they all just came up onto the stage, they didn't understand we were just asking Takashi. But it was cool, and they started playing and we did the best version of a song called ‘Butterfly and Crab’ that we ever did. They were playing the trombone and clarinet and electronics and stuff and trumpet, it was amazing...that was pretty special.
Do they have a recorded output?
They do, actually. I don’t know about albums but Takashi gave me a 7” that they did - this is when he was previously living here, before he left he gave me a gift - it’s pretty cool, it’s one song four times but it’s done four different ways; so the first song is a really folky singalong, then there’s a really stripped down electronic version of it, there’s a version where they’ve got a choir of school kids singing with them and I can’t remember what the other version is...
Are they big in Japan?
I don’t think so no, they’re pretty obscure. But yeah if you search for them online you get a Geocities webpage and it's your classic Geocities layout. I think they’ve got a Myspace as well and that’s about as recent as they get. But the websites are really funny and they’re relatively regularly updated as well.
The Geocities is updated?
Yeah they have details of recent things, and it’s just all cats in the background and crazy stuff.
They don’t get to play that often anymore. They live roughly in the same region but I think the nearest major city to them is Kyoto, but Takashi - first of all he runs a bakery, second of all he got married and had a kid recently, so he’s probably too busy for gigs now. But he puts on gigs in his bakery which would be pretty cool to witness. Gavin Prior went to see him a couple of years ago and played a gig there. We’ve (Brigid, Aaron and I) been talking about going to Japan and doing some gigs and stuff. Hopefully it’ll happen eventually.

On the Abandon Reason Bandcamp there's also a compilation of live recordings from the ...Abyss... launch gig.
Yeah that’s ongoing, as I kind of go through all the recordings. See the thing about that launch gig was that there were five separate sound recorders at it, and I never got any formal instruction in sound recording and software and stuff so I’m fairly sure I have a terrible way of working when it comes to using software. So I got all the recordings off everyone - Gavin, Robin Parmar, I had two recorders and Dave had his own recorder as well. I seem to be the only person who puts in the date and the time onto my recorder so that I can tell from the file when exactly it was recorded and no one else did that, so trying to sync them all together was a matter of just putting them all in the one thing and then just literally hunting around to try and sync all the sound together, so that took ages.
Will that all be downloadable when it's all compiled?
Yeah. Physical release? Maybe, but it’ll be a very long thing, probably about three or four hours. There’s eight tracks at the moment, that’s about half of them.
The launch gig was an all-day affair.
Yeah well it was planned from 12 to 6 ,and I think we started roughly on time... well you know, there were people there at 12. I think Aaron was one of the first people to show up. And anyone could/was encouraged to join in? I think some people ended was hard to tell but I think it got very very loud towards the end, and I think there were a lot of people shouting and yelling and singing and stuff - and that was really cool, it got really primal towards the end, it was great. ‘Cos there was a drum kit there as well, Enda Trautt was playing drums - he plays with United Bible Studies and is a good friend of Dave’s. That was the first time there was a drumkit down there.
I hadn't actually noticed that. There is percussion of a kind on the ...Abyss... compilation.
It was usually percussion on a wall, or that water extraction machine, the pump thing - you’d hit that and you’d get an instant ‘thud’ sound effect, it was cool.
Who was playing the saxophone at the launch gig? She was tearing it up.
Catherine Sikora. There was a cool kind of mix of discordant/smooth tones there. Yeah and then the very very odd time she’ll throw in a melody, and even rarer she’ll repeat it, and then it’s gone. It’s brilliant, it was really great to have her. She’s from Cork but I think she’s lived in New York for the last ten or twelve years or something. She’s a pretty well-established free-jazz improviser. She’d maybe come at it from a more academic angle.
Would you say you come at music in an instinctive way?
I don’t really read about music too much. I have done and I’ve enjoyed it, but it’s not something that I ever actively seek out that much. I’m really into photography and I’m really into reading about photography, but for whatever reason I’m not that interested in reading about music, and I don’t really have that much impulse to study music academically at all. I kind of just want to do it.
Can you read music?
No. I tried to learn but I just don’t have the patience. Well most people I know don't know how to read music. I dunno, I don’t think it’s like a prerequisite of making music. Aaron doesn’t know how to read music, I don't think Dave knows how to read music…
He seems to have a vast/wide-ranging interest in different kinds of music, from devotional drone to throat singing.
Oh Dave is one of the most incredible people I’ve met, in terms of his breadth of interest and knowledge when it come to music. Not just music either, like ask him about anything - movies, books, art and stuff, he’s encyclopaedic. But I think what he does is he’s just incredibly, intensely interested in things; and that’s what drives him, pure curiosity. In things that are kind of random: he’s really interested in Indian music and Hasidism and like this crazy drone stuff and whatnot, but I’m pretty sure he’s a big Charlatans fan as well. He’ll surprise you, he adores things like Scrubs, and in the same breath he’ll talk about, I dunno... Herzog and Charlemagne Palestine. Those are only the things I can remember, he goes on and on about stuff I’ve never heard of. He’s intensely collaborative as well.
Would you have an interest in releasing music from people outside of the Abandon Reason extended family?
Yeah that’s a definite goal, ‘cos I don’t want it to be just a completely insulated endeavour. I’d love to get into the position where I can afford to do a vinyl run, and that’ll probably happen within the year.

1 comment:

  1. fascinating. window into a world of music i knew nothing about.