Siobhán Kane talks with Bobby Krlic aka The Haxan Cloak ahead of his performance at The Twisted Pepper last Saturday.
Bobby Krlic’s music seems to be not only of another time, but atmosphere. His compositions are emotionally charged, and musically gripping; mysterious and subtle, he explores ideas about the physical properties of sound, using strings and percussion, among other instrumentation, to create little kingdoms of often ethereal, melancholy beauty.
There is a real depth of vision on something like ‘The Growing‘ (from Krlic’s self-titled debut record, released last year) with shuddering percussion searching out a kind of hallucinatory state, which seems to permeate so much of his work, and this, along with a borrowed visual aesthetic from the late 18th century/early 19th century, helps to provide an intriguing template for discovery.
Sharing something of a common ground with artists like Stephen O’Malley, Raime and Richard Skelton, The Haxan Cloak‘s work is hypnotic and engaging, and most of all – searching, something the Observatory EP evidenced with its elegant, but ragged strings and synths; and when he revisited some of his earlier work for The Men Parted the Sea to Devour the Water, it was almost to see where he was going musically – and the richer percussion, and rhythmic drive provides an interesting indication of the direction of his upcoming record, as he tells Siobhán Kane.
You studied sound-art at university, could you expand a little on what you feel the course afforded you creatively?
It basically afforded me an opportunity to explore my creative personality with very little boundary. The main aspect is that it introduced me to a lot of art, and to a critical way of thinking and creating that I was not aware of before I undertook the course.
You are very interested in the physical properties of sound, and your first record explores this beautifully, arrestingly – where did this fascination or acknowledgment of the physical properties of sound begin?
This began in my final year of University, I was conducting experiments for my degree show. One experiment involved me playing different low frequencies through a speaker cone. On top of the cone I would place different materials – plastic, metal, liquids with varying viscosities, and observe the effects when the frequency was changed. The physicality of the sound was actually then visible in front of me. The way I thought about creating sound transformed from this moment onwards.
Your work seems as much about a philosophical exploration as it is musical, searching for unfettered honesty, without angle, but with subtlety, and your compositions perhaps reflect the pain that comes with such searching. What are your thoughts?
I can understand why you would say that, and I think it is very valid and interesting point. However, I don’t really believe this view point to be applicable to the way I create music. I would say that pain is a strong term, but there is a definite amount of frustration that comes with trying to realise a piece of music. I would say that the majority of this frustration is eradicated before the piece is finished, though. The frustration comes with all the failed attempts at trying to realise what it is that you want to say.
You have worked often with your friend Mikhail Karikis – who is very talented, how did you meet initially and are there more potential collaborations?
I met Mikhail because he tutored me for part of my final year of my BA. He is indeed very talented. I learned a lot from him and my music would not have been the same were it not for his input and guidance. We haven’t spoken about collaborating again, however, I cannot say that it won’t happen. I would certainly like to work with him again.
Everything is played live by you when you are recording, and I wonder if another aspect to The Haxan Cloak is an exploration of the solitary nature of living – solitude is such a complicated thing, it is something that so many are often frightened of, yet it is one of the only true things left in some ways.
This is a very interesting insight, and something which occurs to me quite often. I think it is inescapable that the nature of solitude makes it’s way into my music – after all, it is a choice I have made to make the music in this fashion, so it must be something that informs the process. I could make this music with others – The Haxan Cloak could easily be an ensemble, but I don’t want it to be. It’s an odd question to answer, because of course, there are many other themes and concepts at the heart of my music that come before the nature of solitude, however it is impossible that it is not present. It’s very difficult to address the subconscious themes which work their way into what you create.
You once described “The Haxan Cloak” as the “dearest friend I have ever had”, but it having the equal power of being able to “displace” you – can you expand a little on that?
The Haxan Cloak is extremely dear to me. It consumes the majority of my thoughts on a daily basis. So of course, if it’s not working out then it can be incredibly disappointing and frustrating, but if I feel there is a clear channel and I am clearly connected then it really is a wonderful feeling. You can feel the invisible wires or something…
Your first record was beautiful, strange and immersive – and your next is set to be released early next year, what has gone into the process this time around, you seem to be moving in a slightly more electronic direction. Can you expand a little on the atmosphere, process and where it places you as a composer – was it a surprise to find yourself in the middle of these sounds?
The process this time was slightly easier, as I already had a narrative in place, so I had a solid idea of what it was that I needed to create. The process is still very much routed in acoustic instrumentation. The majority of the sounds on the record come from acoustic instruments and field recordings. They are significantly wider-reaching than the last one also – I recorded gongs, timpani, orchestral bass drums, horns, a man hallucinating outside Hackney Town Hall…
The significant difference between this record and the last, however, is the way those sounds have been treated. A lot of the sounds have been heavily processed electronically. I really wanted to break all the sounds down, really crumble them down and paint with the textures. More like impressionism or something like that. It wasn’t a surprise in any way to find myself here. I’ve made electronically-oriented music for over ten years now, so it’s something I’m very much comfortable doing. Also, conceptually, it made absolute sense for this record and what I wanted to say.
How did your relationship with Tri-Angle come about? Their ethos seems very much in keeping with your own.
Robin – Tri Angle boss – approached me via email for a remix. We began talking and he asked me if I’d be interested in making a record for the label. The ethos is very similar, yes. Robin is basically just in pursuit of music which moves him, without any false pretense or phoney intentions behind it. Robin releases music which he fully believes in from his heart. I am very much interested in being around people who believe in music for the right reasons, and Robin is one of those people.
How did The Men Shall Part The Sea To Divide The Water come about? And how would you describe the process behind that piece of work? Because it is in part a reinterpretation of previous work, I wondered how you approached it, did you set yourself a kind of constraint while doing it?
That came about because I was being booked to play a lot more live shows than I previously had been. I realised that I had a – albeit very modest – platform to present things musically, so I wanted to try out something that an audience who were aware of my work so far may not have necessarily been expecting. The process behind it was basically taking clear, existing motifs from my self-titled record and mixing them with a more contemporary style of electronic music production. So in a sense, it was really me remixing myself, or reinterpreting myself as you say. I didn’t particularly set any constraints whatsoever, which I think is why it turned out the way it did!
I thought it was a really interesting task, because it signified your obvious love of rhythm – but you were revisiting older work, and imbuing it with that – do you think that perhaps then no song is finite? That compositions are always somehow unfurling?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that, but I would definitely say that I as a musician am not finite, and therefore there is always scope to revisit and reinterpret past work if it feels applicable to a new set of circumstances.
Considering that so much artistry goes into your work, who do you admire in terms of music?
This is a question that could have a very long answer. To save you this, I can name some musicians I am listening to at the moment – Basic Channel, Raime, Jonny Greenwood, Mika Vainio, Actress, Hype Williams, Earth, Blanck Mass, Laurel Halo, Regis, Nine Inch Nails, Prurient, Consumer…I could go on, and on, and on….
Your music contains such nuance, and a perfect live situation is probably never achievable, except perhaps in exceptional circumstances, with a great sound engineer, environment, and sound system, but what have some of your best and worst experiences been live? Do you have to go towards the heavier end of things in the hope that the nuances still somehow survive?
Well, the worst experiences have definitely been while I was still trying to figure out what it meant to transport your music to a live context. I think that now I have learned to view my live performance as separate to my recorded work. I don’t have to go toward the heavier side of things, but I personally, when I am presented with a sizeable PA and a great room, want to completely envelop the audience. I want the crowd to be physically, visually and emotionally consumed by the sound I present. I love performing live. I have quite a strict set of parameters that venues should adhere to, so as long as they are in place, it shouldn’t come across as your average venue performance.
Some of the titles of your songs lend themselves to a more gothic sensibility, conjuring up thoughts of Poe and others – has the literature of that period affected you greatly? I like the use of language from that era – though it is a very wide period – and I don’t want to paint broad brushstrokes, but so much of the language is so evocative.
I have never really read any literature from that period to be completely honest with you. From what I am aware, there is definitely a bleak romanticism there that appeals to me. It is possible this has permeated my aesthetic subconsciously.
You composed something for the V&A – what was that experience like? I think the setting is a perfect one for so much of your music, somehow.
That was great. It was part of a fashion event that a friend of mine had made the costumes for. They were these very ornate dresses where the dancers had kind of fan-tail wings attached to them. The music had to take the sound of the fans as a starting point. I’m afraid I can’t really comment on the aesthetic of the V&A however, as I was unable to actually go and see the piece, which was very disappointing!
What other projects are you working on?
I’m working on a new piece for the Spitalfields Festival next year. It has been commissioned by the sound artist Scanner, and is in part, a response to a piece of music by John Dowland called, “Flow My Tears”.